★★★★ out of ★★★★★
Written and Directed by Andy Mitton
Many have characterized this film as “Hallmark Horror.” Which is, of course, lazy short hand for the fact that the film has an emotional component and it manages to draw the audience in to a deep and meaningful concern for the main protagonists. Mind you this is not “This is Us” or some other network pablum, but a legitimate exploration of a father/son relationship in the throws of pre-teen puberty — set against HORROR, glorious horror.
The Witch in the Window follows Simon (Alex Draper) and his son Finn (Charlie Tacker) as an exceptionally believable father/son duo who’ve set out to rehab an old farmhouse in rural Vermont. This family dynamic is set against a marriage that’s fallen apart, a pre-teen exploring his pre-teen-ness, Beverly (Arija Bareikis) the continually disappointed ex-wife, and a father who perennially makes poor, or at least questionable decisions. Simon comes to the conclusion that the best way to jump start his life is to purchase a heap of farmhouse, spend the summer teaching Finn how to do rudimentary construction, and then flip that house and make a mighty profit.
When Simon and Finn arrive on the scene the slowly begin to settle in and get to work — sans piles and piles of jump scares. The Witch in the Window eases the audience in to the film without ridiculous and overbearing dread and fright, but still manages to manufacture a sense that something isn’t exactly the way that it should be. Soon after, the duo shockingly encounters their electrician — in the basement. Their electrician, Louis (Greg Naughton), in a pleasant bit of lakeside exposition, explains the problems with their farmhouse purchase. Louis explains that the house was previously inhabited by a family headed up by a dastardly witch, Lydia. It turns out that Lydia ghoulishly decided to turn on her family, and her husband and son wound up on the wrong side of a hay-bailer. Lydia eventually died in the house and now continues to curse the entire Vermont countryside. Louis also discloses that night after night he wakes up in a cold-sweat hypnotic sleep state wandering the backroads in his pajamas. Rightfully so, Louis is convinced that the Lydia is the cause of his zombie-like ramblings and he tells Simon and Finn that it’d probably be best if they dump their haunted shack and get the heck out of Vermont.
In an interesting “show the monster” dynamic, Lydia really does appear in the house, in their dreams, and continues to haunt Simon, Finn, and Louis. The jump scares are tight and the fright is real. At one point in the film, Simon tries to wake a sleepy Finn, and as Finn tosses and turns in the bed and pleads for more sleep, Simon begins to disclose his concerns about the house. In an increasingly panicked tone Simon’s mournful voice begins to crack and warble and as Finn wakes, he discovers that the entire time his father’s been outside and the voices he’s been hearing are not Simon’s. Finn and Simon eventually come face to face with Lydia, but in a great twist on the normal “GET OUT” hissing from paranormal shapes, Lydia gurgles “STAY!” Simon, faced with the sanity and safety of his son, decides to ship him back to NYC where he’ll just have to figure out how to wrestle the witch question to the ground by himself.
The Witch in the Window ends with a truly inspired twist that seamlessly weaves together family, community, parenting, and terror in to single and spooky package. As both writer and director, Andy Mitton clearly had a unique and plentiful vision. The tattered relationship between Simon, Finn, and Beverly is honest, plausible, and satisfying. Andy Mitton’s writing and direction is well concocted and frightening without being brutal and gore-filled. It’s rare that these qualities can all coexist in a horror film in a way that’s as balanced as the Witch in the Window. Divorce and puberty are terrifying enough on their own, let alone having to simultaneous contend with the eerie meanderings of Lydia the witch.
The Witch in the Window is not rated (likely R or a heavy PG-13) and is available for streaming on Shudder.