In the midst of the multitude of movies playing at FrightFest what I am always searching for is something truly original, truly brilliant and terrifying and with The Witch in the Window, I found it.
Written, directed, edited and more by Andy Mitton this sparse spooky supernatural chiller offers up a new twist on the traditional haunted house story, taking elements of The Shining and The Pact and infusing them with folk lore and a gothic feel.
Crafting an ominous atmosphere from the opening and never letting it go the story is simple enough. Separated Dad Simon (Alex Draper) collects his son Finn (Charlie Tacker) from his stressed and distressed estranged wife Beverly (The Purge’s Arija Bareikis) for some time away after the 12 year old boy is caught looking at something on the internet he shouldn’t have.
Heading out to Vermont to a splendid, yet dilapidated house in the middle of nowhere that Simon has purchased to renovate and then sell, father and son work and talk, trying to regain the relationship that has been lost since Simon walked out.
Full of strange noises and odd electrics, the building gives both of them a sinister vibe. However, Finn is sad to find that no-one has been murdered there. Nevertheless, there is a dark story to the malevolent mansion, as their neighbour Louis (Greg Naughton) reveals to them when they notice how uncomfortable he is around their new home.
Long ago when Louis was young, an old woman named Lydia (Carol Stanzione) lived there. Everyone called her a witch, not as a joke but because people really believed it. Her family had died allegedly at her own hand, and every day she would sit in the large window at the front of the house looking out at whoever came by.
‘She liked to scare people’ Louise says, and she liked to get into people’s heads. And now, although she is long gone, it seems that this is still the case as the father and son soon find out.
With perfect pacing, The Witch in the Window builds brilliantly setting up the characters, of which there are only 6 in the whole film all wonderfully realised, and getting us to invest instantly in all of their lives.
The brilliant script balances a great ghost story with an interesting analysis of the parent-child relationship in the modern age. Finn’s mum is so upset because she feels she can’t keep her son safe in a world full of hatred, death and destruction with the internet that will show you all of it on a tiny screen whenever you want. Simon tries to take a more honest approach, revealing to his boy that parents lie about the horrors of daily life so children won’t worry, when the reality is everyone is in danger all the time.
The danger in the film is just as insurmountable and insidious as the things they discuss, although it is from the supernatural realm rather than the man-made world. Andy Mitton clearly understands that ‘less is more’ and saves the sightings of the witch in the window until absolutely necessary, offering some stunningly simple, yet tremendously scary moments instead in the opening section which work wickedly well.
When the duo do finally encounter Lydia it is handled in a way that I for one had never seen in a horror film. And massive credit must be paid to Mitton for innovating on such a tried and tested encounter in a genre full of overdone examples.
Holding the audience entrapped from beginning to end, if there is one criticism of the film it would be that it’s too short, although leaving the viewer wanting more is far better than over staying your welcome as Lydia has.
A must see movie magnificently well made, The Witch in the Window is one of the best films from FrightFest 2018, and one of my favorite horrors of the year so far.