Few horror movies are able to nail a single, lasting image that leaves audiences shuddering in their seats long after the credits roll. For some, that first sentence brings up memories of a subconscious flash of Pazuzu or a the spinning head of young Linda Blair in The Exorcist. Or perhaps more modern fare – the extending, shadowed talons of the demon that lays wait above Dalton in Insidious. Still, few films have done it.
When I saw the first images of The Witch in the Window; a stone-faced, rigid woman – almost carved of wood and framed in a white, front facing window in broad daylight.. her eyes cold, wide and empty – I knew they had done it too. The image is haunting, jarring – and overly forthcoming. Who uses a bright and clear image of their monster in the initial marketing? The image is brazen, bold, and promises there is way more to be seen ahead. They nailed it.
Unfortunately, that’s about all the film got right.
Written and directed by Andy Mitton (Shudder’s We Go On), The Witch in the Window follows 12-year-old Finn (Charlie Tacker), who’s shipped off to his Dad’s after getting into trouble on his mom’s computer. (It was porn. Probably porn.) Somewhat estranged, Finn is excessively cool towards his dad Simon (Alex Draper) – who now, (despite not really giving a shit previously, I guess?) just wants to be Finn’s BDF – “Best Dad Forever”.
And this is wherein most of the film’s problems lie. The dialogue is excessive and rigid. Mitton is the Diablo Cody of Dad-talk, conducting Simon to blabber way too many screenwriterly words. Sometimes he strikes gold; at one point Finn tells Simon not to fix the kitchen because he’s a crap cook, Simon responds with “Ooo, sick burn.” and Flynn tries to riff – “Sick… burn.. like-” but dad cuts him off in a moment that is both funny and genuine. Otherwise, the characters simply say too much and what they do say so rarely taps an honest, human connection to the characters.
Take for instance – flipping houses. Simon is into real estate and DIY. He and Flynn are staying at his latest project, a white country house on the water. It’s in rough shape – old wiring, a non-functioning kitchen, and a spooky witch haunting the sunroom. Unfortunately, Simon comes off as not actually knowing anything about real estate or general carpentry because he uses the word ‘Flip’ so many times. (Seriously, did no one CTRL + F the word “FLIP” during the writing process?) To further convey he really, actually, honest to god flippity flips houses – his electrician calls, to which Simon is able to drop super-carpentry buzzwords like ‘Bulkhead’. This call also happens to take place while Simon is opening the back of his truck and we’re like ‘DANG, look at those tools he definitely knows how to use‘. Honestly, when Simon says to Flynn “Your mother doesn’t like that I flip houses. She think it’s gambling”, with how much he knows about real estate – I’m with her.
I’m being harsh, but dialogue is a tricky beast to master. What looks and sounds wonderful being read off a page doesn’t always translate when playing real-life in front of a camera. Take a look at the dialogue in any of the Stephen King adaptations that Stephen King likes. (“Ooo, sick burn”)
There are more disingenuous, stiff moments like these (Flynn remarking every new area or room “smells”, for one), but let’s maybe get into what you came for. The Witch in the Window.
Upon meeting their trespassing neighbour/Electrician(?) Louis (Greg Naughton), Father and Son learn the legend of Lydia (Carol Stanzione) – The Witch in the Window. According to Louis, who hates the house but is also cool to wander around in the dark basement alone, when he was a kid, a woman neighborhood kids called a ‘witch’ died inside Simon’s flippable abode. Before expiring, rumor has it that she murdered her own husband and son in the hay baler on the property. “She used to sit, right up there in the window in the front – just watching. One summer, we all got to noticing that uhh.. she never seemed to leave that spot.” She had been dead up there for weeks.
Putting the creepy story out of their heads, Simon and Flynn get to work renovating the house. Until Lydia begins to appear, not ready to vacate her chair.. that for some reason still in the house (..that she also DIED in. Like – a rotting kind of died.) Right in front of the window.
“Lydia is not a corner of the eye, ‘down a dark hallway’ ghost. When she first appears, she sticks around – in plain view, solid enough to touch.”
For the most part, the scares are creative. Lydia is not a corner of the eye, ‘down a dark hallway’ ghost. When she first appears, she sticks around – in plain view, solid enough to touch. It isn’t until she starts moving that she starts to lose her edge. Flynn has one of those posters of an image hidden within a busy pattern – and though I’ve never been able to get my eyes to do what they’re supposed to do with those – I’m pretty darn positive there’s a good scare to be gotten there.
The Witch in the Window has some creative spooks, an interesting villain, and a few good soundbites – but everything else is ground well tread. Like Simon’s house – it still feels like a work in progress. Father and Son fail to connect to each-other, and so they fail to connect to me, their audience.
The Witch in the Window celebrated its World premiere at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal on July 23rd. Horror platform Shudder recently acquired streaming rights to the film in the UK, US, Canada, Germany, Australia and New Zealand.
Check out more of Nightmare on Film Street’s Fantasia Fest Coverage here, and be sure to sound off with your thoughts over on Twitter and in our Facebook Group!