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aka The Vermont House

D: Andy Mitton / 77m

Cast: Alex Draper, Charlie Tacker, Arija Bareikis, Carol Stanzione, Greg Naughton

For Simon (Draper) and his twelve year old son, Finn (Tacker), the chance to spend six weeks together while Simon flips an old house in Vermont, gives them a chance to have some father-son time, and to give Finn a time out from being with his mother, Beverly (Bareikis), who is struggling to cope with his antagonistic behaviour. Finn is acting out because his parents are estranged, but he harbours a hope that they’ll get back together again. When he sees the house that Simon is renovating, he learns that his father isn’t thinking of selling it, but thinks instead it will make for a good family home for the three of them. However, the house has a history, one that involves a tragedy, and the subsequent, lonely death of the previous owner, Lydia (Stanzione). As the pair work on the house, they begin to experience strange phenomena, occurrences that they attribute to the possibility of Lydia’s ghostly presence (though they’re not entirely serious). And then one day, their assumptions are brought into sharp focus when both of them see Lydia sitting in the very same chair that she died in…

These days it seems that there’s around twenty new horror movies released on an unsuspecting (and likely uninterested) general public every week, and sorting through all the slasher knock-offs, paranormal investigations of haunted houses/abandoned prisons/derelict mental hospitals, and straight up gore fests, in order to find something a little bit different and a little more rewarding, can be a downright chore. But when a horror movie does come along that shows a lot more thought has gone into it than would ever be expected, it’s something to cheer about. Such is the case with The Witch in the Window, the third feature from writer/director Andy Mitton, and a great example of a simple ghost story told well and with a great deal of care. Despite its short running time, Mitton invests first and foremost in the characters, and ensures that the relationship between Simon and Finn is believable and honest, so that when it comes time to put them in danger, the viewer is genuinely worried for them. There’s a credibility too to the conversations they have, and the way that they interact with each other, and both Draper and Tacker give good performances, displaying an easy camaraderie as actors and imbuing their characters’ relationship with an attractive sincerity.

As well as spending time building the father-son dynamic to good effect, Mitton also weaves Lydia’s story into the narrative, and provides the movie with a sense of foreboding that never dissipates. Viewers will derive a degree of fun from spotting Lydia in the background of various scenes, her ghostly presence not always obvious, but unnerving nevertheless. There are more obvious scares involving her, and Mitton isn’t always above using her to make viewers jump (some tricks of the horror movie trade seem as unavoidable as last minute resurrections in a slasher movie), but it’s in the movie’s later stages that Lydia is used in different, and more disturbing ways. She’s also a character with a purpose, one that drives the narrative to an unexpectedly poignant denouement, and one that allows Mitton to explore further the issue of how parents can – or can’t – protect their children from all that’s bad in the world. With Justin Kane’s cinematography providing carefully framed moments of dread, and Mitton providing a score that is seemingly at odds with the tone of the movie but which proves oddly in sync with it, the movie works well on a variety of levels and shows that Mitton is a movie maker with a great deal of talent.

Rating: 8/10 – sometimes the simpler the story and the simpler the approach the better the movie, and that’s definitely the case with The Witch in the Window, a chiller that wants to do more than just scare its audience; thoughtful and intelligently handled, and with moments of quiet audacity, this is short but sweetly horrifying, and offers an unexpectedly moving depiction of parental sacrifice.