Director: Andy Mitton
Writer: Andy Mitton
Producer: Alex Draper, Andy Mitton, Richard W. King
Stars: Alex Draper, Charlie Tacker, Arija Bareikis, Greg Naughton, Carol Stanzione
A father and son discover their renovations on a rural Vermont farmhouse strengthen the ghost of a witch who once lived there.
Beverly has reached her wit’s end with the entire post-Trump world, but more specifically with her 12-year-old son Finn. With the onset of adolescence additionally amplifying angst, an incident involving unapproved online access has the boy growing up faster than his estranged parents would prefer.
Finn’s father Simon may have a temporary solution. Simon makes modest money flipping houses and his latest property in rural Vermont could use a second pair of hands to help with renovations. No one else knows it yet, but Simon secretly hopes to win back Beverly by building a new home for their broken family.
In between bouts of bonding and repair work, father and son learn from a neighbor that the falling farmhouse has a haunting history. Rumors whisper of Lydia, a reported witch who murdered her husband and son. Lydia died in a chair while looking out an upstairs window, but some say you can still see her ghost.
Odd noises and strange visions quickly convince Simon and Finn that the tale is true. Lydia’s ghost seemingly strengthens in step with how much healthier Simon makes the house. The witch in the window now forces the fractured father to choose between fixing figurative cracks, or risking much more to fulfill a fading wish.
Writer/director Andy Mitton, flying solo here after collaborating with Jesse Holland on previous features “Yellowbrickroad” and “We Go On” (review here), cuts his films from a similar cloth as Nicholas McCarthy and Mike Flanagan. Economical indie producing builds dread through discipline disinterested in unnecessarily theatrical tactics. Human elements take precedence over supernatural ones, planting core drama in relatable realism where relationships are more important than monsters. His is a strategically stripped style of vaguely dreamy smolder that suits “The Witch in the Window’s” subtle suspense quite well.
The centerpiece story of a frustrated father adjusting to seeing a difficult child in an evolving light mirrors many of “The Babadook’s” themes. If specifically discussing what this movie is “about,” it certainly isn’t the witch’s backstory or the haunted house. Those are only two tools for a more meaningful examination of understanding personal bonds and accepting limitations regarding anyone’s ability to influence them.
Alex Draper terrifically portrays Simon’s struggle with maintaining patience for Finn while trying to downplay his own detrimental despair. Charlie Tacker isn’t as consistently convincing as his son, but enough emotion exists in Tacker’s performance to charge their chemistry, even if the focus on Draper provides most of that spark.
An unobtrusive camera contentedly captures character exchanges in a natural manner, which ably balances occasions when dialogue reads as overly premeditated. Patient shots even back up several steps when the camera creeps too close to an intimate moment. Few cuts. Fewer close-ups. Andy Mitton’s focused direction and Justin Kane’s unfussy cinematography allows actors to authentically express themselves during wide-open interactions, giving the film a uniquely organic feel. That space makes contracted punctuations of tension pop with heartbreak as well as horror.
“The Witch in the Window” regularly works with mild metaphors without being blatant or stoking annoying ambiguity. If you happen to notice the board game hourglass fiddled between Finn’s fingers for instance, there’s a quick chin stroke there for you about time being in short supply. If it doesn’t catch your eye, or doesn’t ring a subconscious bell, no big deal. Recognizing parallels isn’t required to appreciate the story’s second side as a classically framed ghost story.
The movie’s emphasis on grounded moods shouldn’t imply that “The Witch in the Window” doesn’t deal in fear-filled atmosphere. It definitely does in the form of a patina of unease quietly draping over outward normalcy. Mitton’s M.O. merely moves attention toward engaging personality dynamics, then thrusts them into momentarily extraordinary circumstances that challenge those arcs to take action.
Having to draw your own conclusion can complicate the narrative’s ability to connect. Multiple endings also pinch awkwardness into the conclusion. However, its 75-minute runtime and limited frills make “The Witch in the Window” undemanding as an easily accessible exercise in eeriness. Its effectiveness at engineering that unsettling tone enriches the experience as emotionally intriguing entertainment.
Review Score: 75