“We’re the house doctors, you and me,” says Simon (Alex Draper) in The Witch In The Window. “Get in there where the bad parts are and make ’em good. Turn this into some place someone would want to live.”
Simon is explaining to his 12-year-old son Finn (Charlie Tacker) what they will spend the next six weeks together doing to an old, damaged farmhouse that Simon has bought cheap in Vermont. Their own home is just as broken. Simon no longer lives with his wife Beverly (Arija Bareikis) and Finn, and the latter, on the cusp of adolescence, has been causing further friction by transgressing bounds and looking at forbidden things on the internet – which is why Beverly has asked Simon to take Finn away for the summer. At first prickly, Finn soon opens up to Simon, and as father and son work side by side on the Vermont house, it is clear that Simon is also hoping to rebuild the shaky relations between all three of them.
Beverly may still be in her New York apartment, but there remains a ghostly female presence in the Vermont house. For something of the house’s previous occupant Lydia (Carol Stanzione), who died alone there, lingers on, growing ever more tangible and powerful the more the dilapidated house is brought back to life by Simon and Finn. Lydia haunts the house like one of the concealed images in Finn’s Magic Eye posters, at first appearing in the shadows and the corners where the eye is least focused, and then coming into clearer resolution the more that Simon and Finn (and the viewer with them) stare. Whether she is, as spooked local neighbour Louis (Greg Naughton) insists, a revenant witch full of malicious intent, or perhaps a dark reflection of all the dysfunction and negativity in Simon’s fracturing family, the father, himself desperately lonely, may find a way to mend his own damaged heart and to keep his loved ones close and safe.
“I’m just trying to keep him safe, and I am all alone in this,” Beverly tells Simon at the film’s beginning, “Up against the internet, random shootings, other people’s bad kids, the planet dying, and now this President.” The latest feature from writer/director Andy Mitton (YellowBrickRoad, We Go On), this is a sensitively written portrait of a household collapsing under pressures both internal and external, with strong psychological underpinnings to shore up its more disorienting genre-based materials. Mitton’s handling of the supernatural elements – the way they are casually introduced and incorporated into the edges of Simon and Finn’s domestic experience – proves extremely unsettling, even as everything shifts towards a hard-earned poignancy that is both haunting and sublime. Few films genuinely creep me out or make me cry – The Witch In The Window expertly managed both.
The Witch In The Window was seen and reviewed at Fantasia 2018.