“When love breaks down
The lies we tell,
They only serve to fool ourselves…”
(When Love Breaks Down, Aztec Camera)
“I think that all women are witches, in the sense that a witch is a magical being. Don’t be scared of witches, because we are good witches, and you should appreciate our magical power”
Simon (Alex Draper) and Beverley (Arija Bareikis) have drifted, away and apart from one another. A thread of their love is still present, connecting them but also serving as an irritation…binding them when being so bound simply serves to fool them into believing that maybe, just maybe things could be good again. They are also bound by the child they have, Finn (Charlie Tacker) and his presence is, one suspects, the only thing stopping the thread being severed by one or other of them completely.
Following an “incident” involving Finn discovering that certain corners of the internet contain things more frightening than a twelve year old could ever have imagined a decision is taken to have him spend six weeks with Simon in Vermont. A chance for father and son to reconnect, a space for Beverley to breathe and for everything to change.
From this melodrama director Andy Mitton carefully crafts a horror film that draws on the familiar (Kubrick’s “The Shining”) and the less well known (Hiroshi Teshigahara’s “Woman in the Dunes) and leaves you breathless by its conclusion and convinced that you have seen something genuinely new in a genre that can, all too often, rely on tired tropes and retreads to draw out tired scares.
When they reach their summer home in Vermont Simon explains to Finn that they will be flipping the house. As part of the project they employ the services of local handyman Louis who explains the history of the house…
“They didn’t tell you about her? Lady who lived here when I was a kid…she was the kind of lady that kids would call a witch. The usual small town stuff. But this was not cute…it was a good house once…but for me it was always her house. Most people genuinely try to do good…this woman was the other way”
This woman spent her days sitting in the upstairs window of the house, staring out at the world and revelling in the fear she invoked on others, before eventually dying in that same spot. The witch in the window.
In the hands of a less talented writer and director this would descend, and quickly, into the realm of jump scares, exorcisms and Finn disappearing into some nether world from whence Simon will have to rescue him aided only by an elderly medium. Fortunately Mitton is too sharp for any of that and so instead we are given a carefully paced tale of a father and son bonding with the horror kept at arms length for as long as is possible.
When the witch (Lydia) does finally appear it isn’t as some blood soaked monster or as the sort of manipulative demon Hell bent on driving its victims mad that clutter up too many modern horror films. She is, instead, a genuinely dark and disturbing force. Slowly, gently, the torment and torture of Simon in particular begins and when it does it becomes clear that it may never end.
There are moments in “The Witch in the Window” that hauntingly beautiful; many of the conversations between Simon and Finn are so intimate, so delicate and so honest that it is difficult to believe that we are watching fiction and not documentary film. The relationship between Draper and Tacker is perfect and great credit must go to Tacker in particular for delivering a performance that exhibits great maturity.
Other moments in the film are haunting in very different ways. One scene in particular hasn’t left my mind in the days since I first watched. Every night when the light fades and sleep begins its slow march to total control of my body and mind I can see, again, that moment and each time it leaves me quivering.
“The Witch in the Window” is available to view now on SHUDDER