By Dr Christopher Reynolds

The scene that opens The Witch in the Window sets up both the premise and the themes of the film, with absent father Simon (Alex Draper) dropping in on his ex-wife Beverly (Arija Bareikis) to take their son Finn (Charlie Tacker) off her hands for a few weeks. Naturally, he’ll be taking Finn to a spooky old house in the middle of nowhere that he’s just bought. Beverly bemoans the stress of having to care of Finn alone while dealing with “the planet dying and now this president”. For many people, it seems now that being spooked by a ghost is more predictable and comforting than living in a country where policy is driven by the whims of a narcissistic Twitter troll. And yes, despite the title seeming to link it to a current rise in witch-related films, this is more of a classic ghost story set in a typical haunted house.

The shadow of Stephen King looms large over the proceedings, with its remote New England setting and prosaic treatment of the supernatural occurrences, but primarily with the very King-esque scenes of father-son bonding. Although it’s the interpersonal relationships that should form the backbone of the film, with the supernatural elements functioning as a metaphor for stability and escape from the problems of the real world, it’s the supernatural scenes that work the best. The scenes of Simon and Finn learning about each other’s lives and sharing time together are let down by clunky dialogue of them telling each other about their feelings (Finn tends to sound much more adult than the twelve-year-old boy he’s supposed to be). On the other hand, the scenes which involve ghosts and scary moments are handled extremely well, with two of them in particular being tense and scary in a way that modern ghost films generally aren’t. It does this without relying on special effects or unannounced monsters suddenly popping into frame: just three actors in a room and an unnerving build-up of tension through direction and editing before exploding into sudden action.

Written and directed by Andy Mitton, who previously made YellowBrickRoad (2010) and We Go On (2016), there’s a competent directorial hand at work here that shows through the low budget, both in the aforementioned scare scenes and also in some of the cinematography, which is the only thing holding the interest at times. It’s really the lack of story in the script that ends up being the key problem here. At 74 minutes before the credits roll, The Witch in the Window is already significantly short for a feature, and on top of that there’s a lot of padding at the beginning and the end, with the central ghost story occupying about half an hour in the middle. Some better balancing between the dramatic and the horrific would have helped matters, but there just isn’t enough plot to justify the extension of this to feature length. It would have made much more impact as a half-hour short or a 45-minute TV episode.

The well-directed scare scenes are enough for a mild recommendation to horror fans interested in slow-burn horror and looking for a couple of good scares, but this isn’t a film to come back to, or one that would have much crossover appeal to a wider audience.

Arrow Video Frightfest Review: The Witch In The Window
2.5Overall Score
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