Released Oct. 18, 2018
Unrated (equal to PG-13 for imagery, thematic elements, and language) – 1hr 17min
Directed by Andy Mitton
Starring Alex Draper, Arija Bareikis, Charlie Tacker
12-year-old Finn (Tacker) has his mother Beverly (Bareikis) at her wits’ end, so she sends him off to Vermont for the summer to live with his estranged father Simon (Draper) while he works on a house-flipping renovation. As they repair the home, Simon attempts to repair his broken relationship with his maturing and increasingly cynical son, but a sinister spirit that resides in the house has its own plans in mind for the pair.
The Witch in the Window is just as much a dramatic presentation as it is a supernatural thriller, if not more so. For the first half, the paranormal elements take a back seat to an exploration of the aftermath of divorce, the insecurities of parenthood, and the struggles of youth being confronted by a harsh and complicated world. However, when the ghostly business takes the wheel, it takes the wheel.
I’ve been expecting big things from Andy Mitton ever since I stumbled upon a gem titled YellowBrickRoad years ago. While not universally well-received (maybe it was the CGI FX that were over-ambitious for its budget? To me, it was one of the best horror offerings of 2011), it was comprised of the kind of distinctive elements that provide a filmmaker their own unique style. Not until six years later was it followed up with We Go On, an enjoyable effort that had something of a wandering narrative.
With The Witch in the Window, Mitton has created his most fully realized film to date. The story is engaging, the father-son dynamic at the center of the proceedings feels authentic, the pace is brisk, it does a lot with a little, and the themes of the plot all tie together into a satisfying whole. The movie flows so effortlessly that its 77 minutes were over in a proverbial blink. This is his first solo directorial effort without collaborator Jesse Holland, and while the more overt and hallucinatory horror elements are missing here, The Witch in the Window is strong from start to finish.
This is greatly assisted by the two performances at the core of the film. Alex Draper and Charlie Tacker, as unsure father and emotionally distant son, make for a low-key yet natural duo that provide the foundation for the story. Despite the shattered-family subject matter and supernatural goings-on, they never resort to hysterics and melodrama in their depiction of a father trying desperately to connect with his nearly-teenage son and that son wanting but struggling to trust and love his dad. So when the malevolent specter takes the stage, it hits with an appropriate amount of impact.
However, now it’s time to pick the nits. The premise upon which Finn is sent off in the first place portrays his mother in a rather unsympathetic light. If that were the intention, then fine, but I got the impression that it wasn’t meant to be the case. I mean, if she’s that thoroughly rattled over her maturing son’s budding curiosities about a complex world, she has bigger problems to which she’s unaware. None of this is ever addressed or resolved, but given the unusually short runtime, a few minutes could have been devoted to better exploring this corner of the story. Nothing is ruined, by any means, and I generally don’t ask for more movie because I invested myself that much in its characters, so even this critique is a form of back-handed praise.
That said, The Witch in the Window, for being one of the more subtle haunted house movies I can recall, contains what I’d consider a pitch-perfect spine-chilling scene. Not much gets a verbal ‘Oh damn!’ out of me, especially since there’s virtually no violence or gore to speak of. It’s a masterfully crafted moment and, like YellowBrickRoad did, has me eagerly anticipating Andy Mitton’s next horror effort.
The Witch in the Window gets a rating of