“Both directors are stepping out of their boxes.”
In this article, I will be changing it up and look at two films in one article. Both films may seem different but they have a shared connection, however I won’t be making comparisons. The directors Paul Feig (A Simple Favour) and Eli Roth (The House with a Clock in its Walls) have both been boxed into their respective genre fares. Whilst Feig is known for raunchy comedies and Roth for adult horror films, now Feig is tackling a thriller and Roth making a horror aimed at families. These shifts are marked by Favour‘s tagline (‘From the darker side of Paul Feig’) and Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment co-producing Walls.
A Simple Favour
A Simple Favour’s mashup of comedy and thriller should not work as well as it does. The film has a fair amount of genuinely funny moments as well as a lot of shocking ones, but this balancing act never feels jarring. It is helped by a twist-heavy story that is always engaging and unpredictable all the way to the end. If there is one flaw, it is that there are a few red herrings that do not get payoffs, including a bizarre backstory for main character, Stephanie, that is interesting but does not factor into the story enough.
The acting is strong from the two leads, whilst Anna Kendrick may not be playing against type, she is still as likeable and adorable as ever. Her character might seem air-headed at first, but as the film goes on she becomes smarter and more competent. Blake Lively steals the show and gives one of her best performances. Her character is incredibly fun to watch and every line she has gets a reaction. The mystery surrounding her character allows her to play several different emotions and character types and she nails all of them.
Feig’s style is very noticeable in the cinematography as the film has a glossy, colourful look, like a modern comedy. Whilst this might feel strange for a film with a lurid and disturbing story, it establishes a heightened reality that can go from incredibly serious to very funny. The editing and pacing is also quick and efficient, a good sign that Feig has used the genre shift to go away from his previous focus on pace-breaking comedic improvisation.
A Simple Favour takes two genres and blends them together excellently and is carried by two great lead performances, with an entertainingly told story to back it up. Personally speaking, this is my favourite of Feig’s filmography so far.
The House with a Clock in its Walls
Eli Roth may be best known for gory horror like Cabin Fever and Hostel, but those films are juvenile and awkward because Roth’s writing tries too hard to be shocking and include obnoxious humour with unlikeable characters. By contrast, The House with a Clock in its Walls, though also technically a horror film, is enjoyable because Roth ditches these traits and instead focuses on being whimsical, fun and genuine. There are a lot of jump scares and some frightening imagery, but it never gets too scary for children, as there is a lot of humour to balance it out. Much of the film is extremely funny, save for a couple of weak jokes here and there.
The characters in this film are also likeable because they have well defined personalities and are easy to care about. The story that the characters go through is nothing unique, but there are some decent surprises and the conclusion is extremely satisfying. What makes the story worthwhile are the main morals and themes of accepting conflict, grief, who you are and taking pride in being a unique individual. The fact that Roth was able to convey these themes in a subtle manner, let alone at all, is a good sign that he is growing up as a filmmaker.
If there is an issue with the light tone, it is that it goes a little too far with the craziness in the third act. Some of the imagery is too silly to take seriously and borders on cartoonish. The story also includes the overdone plot device of a rule the protagonist is told not to break but does, which is unfortunate because the film teases on avoiding that cliché but ultimately commits to it.
Owen Vaccaro is a competent child actor and he holds his own against the other actors (although his crying is a little forced). Jack Black and Cate Blanchett are both incredibly entertaining to watch, they have great chemistry and feel well suited to the tone. Black is one of cinema’s best comic talents, so he obviously excels at the humour, but he also has enough of a lively presence that he can fit in with the fantastical environment. The same goes for Blanchett, who is a bit subtler but is still clearly having a lot of fun.
The House with a Clock in its Walls is an enjoyable fantasy/horror adventure that shows that Eli Roth has made a big leap forward from his previous films. He has created something that adults and children will enjoy equally and directed his best film to date.