Directed by: #AndyMitton
Written by: #AndyMitton
The haunted house story is a cinematic classic; outstanding examples of which can be found in films like The Haunting and The Others. And it's these films in particular that are brought to mind whilst watching Andy Mitton's excellent The Witch in the Window.
In an attempt to reconnect with his family, an estranged father, Simon, brings his twelve-year-old son, Finn, up to rural Vermont to help him flip an old farmhouse. The farmhouse – having been left abandoned for decades due to the local legend that it had belonged to a witch named Lydia – is in need of considerable modernisation. But as the father and son begin the renovation, strange things start to occur; is it just the old house creaking and groaning back to life, or is there some truth to the old legend after all?
There’s only a small on-screen cast here, but the intimate and genuine performances on display gift, the film its greatest asset.
Our father and son, played by Alex Draper and Charlie Tacker, form the backbone of the story; honestly, it’s hard to imagine anyone else being cast in these roles. Their individual performances are extraordinary in their own right: Draper is magnificent as Simon, an initially unsympathetic, absent father figure who undergoes a drastic, and yet – thanks in no small part to Draper’s performance – totally believable and moving character arc, whilst young Charlie Tacker gives a show-stealing performance as Finn, Simon’s estranged son, whose problems at home have caused him to feel isolated and confused. But it’s their on-screen dynamic and shared scenes that are really important here, and both actors have effortlessly put to screen a genuine and heart-warming portrayal of a strained father-son relationship, which both are desperate to understand and repair.
The farmhouse, a character in itself, is an understated marvel: there are no striking intricacies in its aesthetic details and no #Gothic Revival style grandeur, but there is a kind of American #Gothic ambience present; which just works so well here. In fact, it’s this simplicity and distinct lack of anything excessive, coupled with the fact most of the supposed #supernatural activity – which itself is never overplayed – takes place during broad daylight that really made The Witch in the Window feel so special to me; we all know spooky goings-on are much more spooky if they happen when we think we’re safe.
An eerie soundtrack accompanies some equally eerie #cinematography, in which the framing takes centre stage; switching between level framed shots and distorted or tilted angular shots when things begin to go awry.
As I’ve already stated, The Witch in the Window is a haunted house tale in every possible way: it relies upon the atmosphere it creates and the characters who inhabit its world; avoiding the use of any crass jump scares or gorefest ‘shock endings.’ It’s far more interested in the father-son relationship which underpins the film, and, frankly, so am I.
As a matter of fact, a good three-quarter of the film has almost nothing #supernatural in it at all (although it never loses that unsettling and uneasy aura) and dedicates its time developing characters and examining the complex dynamics of its leads; clearly taking inspiration from The Haunting, which was itself a kind of psychological character study.
The filmmakers have also touched upon this idea that a house can be or can at least feel good or bad based on who’s lived there previously, and that it’s somehow possible for a person’s essence to remain in that house for many years after their death; it’s a really interesting idea which has been explored here with real nous.
The lack of jump scares or a high body count may well put some people off, but I loved every minute of it. The Witch in the Window was one of the few genuinely chilling and affecting films I saw at the Grimmfest Film Festival and still has me thinking about it now. I’d not known what to expect when I sat down to watch it, but I was worried that it would degenerate into some bloody farce by the end; not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it wasn’t what I wanted from this film. Thankfully it never did, and I found the slower pacing and less in your face approach a refreshing change: and to top it all off, the cast is superb, the #cinematography is beautiful and the story is incredibly touching; what more could you want?