The Witch in the Window

4 out of 5

Interesting: I never would’ve thought to follow up on one of the directors of YellowBrickRoad, although it would seem I did note there was promise… so fie on me for not keeping track of all those promising directors out there, especially when they’d already done some other stuff (We Go On) that I’d been meaning to check out.  I’m ruining movies for everyone by not diligently viewing and reviewing this stuff.

What I did review in a timely manner was The Haunting of Hill House, in which a family attempts to repair a flip a house, only to be (spoiler in the show’s title, y’all) haunted by the house’s past residents.  While that’s certainly not a new setup, nor was it for the source book at its time of publication, the proximity of Witch in the Window, time-wise, of Haunting of HH makes the comparison notable, especially because the film – in a much more limited screen time – makes much better on the frights and emotional aspects of its story than Hill House did.

There is a lower budget at work here which keeps things pretty much grounded to jump scares of the titular witch popping out at us, but director Andy Mitton holds back from abusing this, instead working in her constant background presence – forefront and center, just watching events – and the quiet, tense interactions between often-absent father Simon (Alex Draper) and his son Finn (Charlie Tacker) as they work together, bonding over the frightening things they’re witnessing in the house and using it as a springboard to talk about the frightening things in the everyday world…

The Witch in the Window does one of my favorite things in fright flicks: it never denies the scares.  It’s a runtime-filling trope of the genre: one character sees something, talks about it, and then has to spend time convincing others.  Here, Simon and Finn both get their own jolts, and confront them together.  It never felt misleading in this sense as Hill House (and others of the same cloth) did, and it also continually nudges their non-ghosty themed conversations forward, grounding us in their decision / desire to keep working in the house.  The witch is recognized as a specter – not necessarily a threat – and again, because we’re not lied to on that account, the emotional punch of the story is allowed to better flourish, making the film get better as it goes along.

There’s perhaps an even more subtle version of the film that doesn’t show the witch quite so often, and doesn’t give in to somewhat repetitive jump scares in its midsection, but Mitten gives his actors a strong script to embrace, making the overall experience an effectively thoughtful and haunting one.

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