Fantasia 2018: The Witch in the Window [Review]
Haunted house movies have come and gone. Many have failed to impress me; a few still resonate deep within my soul. However, all those which have marked me were purely for reasons of straight-up fear and horror. “The Witch in the Window,” which made its world premiere at Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival and was hosted by its writer & director Andy Mitton (writer & director of “We Go On” and “YellowBrickRoad”), still flutters in and out of my mind due to its beautifully character-driven tale.
Simon (Alex Draper; “YellowBrickRoad”) brings his pre-teenage son Finn (Charlie Tacker) to an old country house, claiming he wants to flip it, while telling his ex-wife he just wants to renovate and tidy it up. In reality, he’s attempting to win back his former lover by restoring a house that she always dreamed of. On the day they move in, however, his nearest neighbor and general handyman, Louis (Greg Naughton), reveals the mysterious past and death of the home’s former owner, Lydia, and how dreadfully feared she was. Soon enough, Simon and Finn realize that their manual work will not be peaceful as the residence is still occupied by a sinister presence.
First off, dive head-first into this film with the mindset that it is a drama with some horror rather than a “Conjuring-esque” haunted house film and you will not be disappointed. The character development, and how we learn a little more of their past, is quite compelling and beautifully portrayed. I completely bought into Charlie Tacker’s performance of the pre-teen who plays it cool, like he doesn’t need any guidance or help, yet still sleeps with his teddy bear and wants to be comforted by his dad. Credible child actors are difficult to come by in the movie business, but Charlie Tacker is definitely one of them. I also adored Alex Draper’s portrayal of Simon, a seemingly cool, calm, collected and soothing father, who also doesn’t really know how to be a good father, but tries very hard at it. Despite dramas usually boring me to the brink of death, I never grew tiresome of the tale depicted before my eyes, as the relationship between father and son truly seemed genuine to me.
Don’t worry; there ARE some moments of horror. If you spend the first half of this movie and proclaim: “NOTHING went on in the movie. It’s so slow,” then you didn’t keep your eyes peeled properly on the screen before you. There are numerous occasions, all in subtlety, where Lydia is present and still haunting the home. Without making a huge close-up on her or using a cheap audio jump-scare, she is often visible in seemingly ordinary scenes. Two main scare scenes, in particular, actually gave me chills, for the way it was performed and how chilling it must have been for the characters involved. If you really embark and believe in this plot, you may even have a “I’m not crying; YOU’RE crying” moment. Shivers and tears within the same dramatic horror film? You’re doing something right.
With a charmingly delicate soundtrack at times and some haunting visuals at others, Andy Mitton does a phenomenal job at grasping your attention in contrasting ways. I particularly liked the directing of the scene where Louis describes Lydia’s reputation and how she passed away to Simon. Rather than having the camera focused on the two characters’ facial expressions in bland and unoriginal fashion, Mitton prefers to slowly zoom in on various areas of the home described in Louis’ storytelling, which only adds to the creepiness of the scene.
Although not particularly terrifying, and it probably wasn’t the main focus nor intention of the film, “The Witch in the Window” crafts a “déja vu” storyline with some magnificently portrayed characters, a touch of chills, and a sprinkle of sentimental value to it. This alluring recipe merits 3.5 stars out of 5.