Fantasia 2018: ‘The Witch in the Window’ Rewards Patience with Scares

Andy Mitton’s latest film, The Witch in the Window, works likes a carnivorous plant. It draws you in with sweetness and a feeling of comfort. By the time you notice something is wrong, you’re already sucked into it and it’s too late to escape.

Simon (Alex Draper) is a decent dude. He’s good with his hands, has a wicked sense of humor. Personal relationships, however, are a different story. Things are strained between Simon and his wife. They’ve separated, and Simon travels from place to place, leaving her to raise their 12-year-old son, Finn (Charlie Tacker) by herself. In an effort to make things right, or at least better, Simon takes Finn to Vermont, the site of his newest real estate project.

The house needs some work, to put it mildly. “Please tell me people got chopped up in here,” Finn says, immediately upon entering. Bad pipes, wiring that needs to be replaced, a nightmare for any homeowner. But there’s more to be worried about than a few home repairs. According to the closest neighbor, Louis (Greg Naughton), the house is haunted by the ghost of the previous owner, Lydia. And she is not a friendly spirit.

The relationship between Simon and Finn is precious without being twee. Their conversations feel natural and real, and Draper and Tacker have a thoroughly believable chemistry as father and son. It’s a tremendous tandem acting effort, providing a solid underpinning for the whole tale. Had these two performers not meshed together as well as they do, the film would not carry the impact it does. Perfect casting is a rarity. Enjoy it here.

Writer/director Mitton does an excellent job exploring the family dynamics. The film addresses the lengths we go to protect our children in a world that grows scarier by the day. Should they be sheltered, or is it best to tell them everything that’s going on and discuss it openly? What about all the adult content on the internet? On a more personal level, how much should you tell your children about your own mistakes, your own recognized character flaws? It’s unexpected material for a scary movie to cover, but The Witch in the Window faces it head on and with grace.

But this is no weak sauce family drama. It’s still a haunted house movie, and the scares are wonderfully effective. To his credit, the jump scares are minimal. Mitton understands that the most frightening images are the ones you don’t see right away. Things lurk in the background, waiting for the viewer to discover them. There’s a great bit involving the hidden picture inside one of those 3-D stereoscopic Magic Eye posters. Hint: it’s not a schooner.

The Witch in the Window spends a lot of time ensconcing the viewer in that snuggly cardigan of familiarity. It’s a spooky house tale. You’ve been here before. You know where it’s going, what’s likely to happen. But you probably don’t. The third act of the movie pulls you into a weird and surprising turn of events as shocking as it is exhilarating. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself wide-eyed and open-mouthed as the ending unfolds.

It’s a quiet piece of horror, incisive and intimate in style. And as much as there is to commend about the actors and the clever, beautifully understated script, it never forgets its horror foundations. There are things about it that should not be discussed yet, in an effort to avoid spoilers, but The Witch in the Window is a film that will be talked about for its originality, depth, and atmosphere. An official selection of this year’s Fantasia Festival, see this Witch as soon as you can.

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