If people are like houses, then a haunted estate is merely a person who has yet to deal with the ghost that dwells inside them. Whether it be the loss of a loved one, the redundantly toxic pattern one can’t help but repeat — or, in Simon (Alex Draper)’s case, the remnants of a failed marriage — some sort of apparition forgoes the owner’s ability to move on, to live. In writer/director Andy Mitton’s utterly impressive The Witch in the Window, it becomes evident that this eerie tale about an aging ghost house packs just as much of an emotional punch as it does deliver gut-wrenching goosebumps.
The dissolution of the family unit is a popular theme for horror movies in 2018, and The Witch in the Window is no exception. With movies like Hereditary and A Quiet Place making waves and wowing audiences with masterful performances and superior directing, walking down such a familiar path would send most filmmakers running scared – and yet, in his own personal and isolated set environment, Mitton manages to make a compelling and horrific family drama that feels all his own.
It all starts when twelve-year-old Finn (Charlie Tacker) watches something he wasn’t supposed to see on the internet, sending his mother into a blind rage, and causing her to cast off her son to stay her ex-husband until she can bear to look at the child’s face again. Caught between a rock and a hard place, Simon reluctantly allows the son he’s mostly been avoiding all his life to tag along with him and help as he renovates and flips his latest project, an old farmhouse out in the Vermont countryside.
As the duo begins working on their rustic little fixer-upper, talking all the while about Simon’s mom, with the inquisitive little tween asking a million questions about the marriage that didn’t make it, it slowly becomes apparent that they’re not alone in the house. In the quiet corners of their quaint conversations, a shadowy and sinister figure appears, lurking, watching. At times, her face vanishes so quickly it barely registers in the brain, but the hairs standing up on the back of your neck let you know that you saw her. A witch waiting in the wings. Growing closer, growing more powerful, and becoming less patient.
Eventually, the friendly neighborhood electrician, Louis (Greg Naughton), timid about entering the property to fix the lights, admits to Simon and Finn that he’s afraid of the house, and the ghost of the woman who’s wallowing inside of it. Louis explains that years ago, a known witch occupied the house with her husband and her son, both of whom were mysteriously found dead on the farmland. Louis says the place has always given him nightmares, most of which have led to his sleepwalking, and every time he would open his eyes he would wake at the edge of the property. Facing the window, Louis would find the witch staring back at him, watching. It was as if she were drawing him there. Finally, one day, when Louis awoke as he always did, drenched in cold sweat and standing at the foot of the witch’s lawn, he noticed that she wasn’t blinking as she sat in her chair facing the window. Apparently, she had been dead for a while now, eyes fixed open, watching the world in death as she had in life.
Although Simon shrugs the story off at first, chalking it up to mere superstition, as time passes and the witch makes her powers known, this broken man who’s become dead set on repairing his family just as he repairs this house, begins to realize that he has just about as much control over protecting his son from this spirit as he does over the protection of his shattered marriage. Ghosts are coming for him, both literally and figuratively, and he is helpless to do anything but watch.
Atmospheric, unsettling, and creepy as hell, The Witch in the Window is one of the most exciting horror movies of the year. The tangible, believable chemistry shared between talented actors Draper and Tacker who play father and son help the audience establish a strong bond with the characters that makes their situation seem all the more perilous when the two are put in danger. It’s hard not to root for the pair to make it out alive, to re-establish their familial structure, and to banish the ghost from their new property – and because of this, it feels all the more heartbreaking each time life swats them down and puts them in their place.
Through haunting imagery and a playful distortion of reality – is all of this really happening to Simon, or is he still dreaming? – director Mitton establishes a heightened world from the beginning that allows anything wickedly authentic to happen, and brings the audience along for the ride. Surprisingly touching, this spooky story about a spirit that refuses to exit the premises serves as both a movie that will have you looking over your shoulder, while also simultaneously giving the viewer pause to reflect upon the skeletons in their own closet, and what demons they’ve yet to face that will keep them locked like a prisoner within the confines of their mind. Are we doomed to face our past in the form of a ghost that won’t leave our world? Do we damn ourselves to misery when we try to repair what’s been broken for so long? One thing’s for sure – The Witch in the Window is not to be missed, and we should all be paying attention to Andy Mitton.