I was very much looking forward to seeing The Witch In The Window but I couldn't, for the life of me, remember why. And then I took note of the writer and director. It's one Andy Mitton, a man who had previously thrilled me with YellowBrickRoad (a divisive, but downright impressive, feature debut) and the even better, although much more standard, We Go On. Both were horror movies made by someone who knows how to mix unease and subtle details with some perfectly-executed jump scares. But, perhaps tellingly, both were co-created with Jesse Holland.
The story here is all about a father (Simon, played by Alex Draper) and son (Finn, played by Charlie Tacker) who are having some time together while the father attempts to apparently "flip" a house. To flip a property is to buy it, hopefully at a low price, and then do enough decent work on it to be able to sell it for a profit. It's a gamble, but Simon has done it a few times now. Unfortunately, this latest property has a bigger problem than any structural or decorative issues. It has the spirit of a witch (Lydia, played by Carol Stanzione), and she sits at the window. What follows is a supernatural tale that focuses equally on the father and son relationship than the scares.
Despite one or two very good scares, The Witch In The Window feels reminiscent of the darker films that Disney gave us back when they tried to create some family-friendly horror movies. Even the title is close enough to The Watcher In The Woods for me to suspect that this is exactly what Mitton was aiming for. Therefore I am inclined to assume the personal responsibility for my lack of love for the movie. I liked it, it's a nicely put together film, but I didn't love it as I had hoped I would. Of course, I wasn't expecting a sweet father and son movie with occasional creepiness. I somehow expected a nerve-jangling experience more akin to We Go On.
Draper and Tacker aren't the best actors but their relationship feels very real, and that's the main thing. Both are coming to the same point from different directions, with the father wanting to be cool with his son but not in a way that will negate rules laid down by his mother (Arija Bareikis) and the son testing boundaries and getting things off his chest while they have their time together. It's this aspect of the film that works best, that strange blend of familiarity and awkwardness that happens when parents reconnect with their children after any time apart. The small main cast is fleshed out by Greg Naughton (who does okay as a nearby neighbour/handyman who knows the history of the house) and Stanzione (effectively creepy).
There are two standout sequences that should manage to give you goosebumps, making this worth your time (and it runs for just under 80 minutes), but I think it's important for people, especially anyone looking for standard horror thrills, to know that the heart of the film is not a scary or evil one.
Going back then, and reappraising the film for what it is instead of what I was expecting, how does it fare? Well, it's fine. I'm surprised that Mitton couldn't get it to generally look and sound better (sorry, it often feels cheap, which he generally avoided in previous movies). It would have also been nice to get to know Simon and Finn a bit more, and to find out why the parents separated. And it's a shame that the tone just doesn't work. Once the "horror" starts to happen, it rarely has any impact. Everything is shown so plainly and calmly that any tension is washed away, none of the characters feel truly endangered, and the short runtime makes it feel that everything rushes to end just as it was building up to something more effective.
The ending is good, however, with a bittersweet resolution for some of the main characters, and the moments that feel most authentic and honest are the moments that will stay with you after the end credits. Even if, like me, you were hoping for some more scares.
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