'The Witch In The Window' Is Another Great 2018 Horror Movie About The Terrors Of Parenting [Fantasia Film Festival]

Andy Mitton might be without frequent behind-the-scenes partner Jesse Holland (YellowBrickRoad/We Go On) for The Witch In The Window, but separation anxiety is handily staved. As sole writer and director, Mitton embraces parenthood paranoias of this very instant by furthering his obsession with heavyweight thematic manipulations in genre fare. His ghost story chases compassion, unnerves come nightfall, and rattles your insides, but also spins the gears of terror until a full rotation completes what hath started. Storytelling with a completionist attitude, enviable when compared to lesser "look over there!' haunts. All in under 80 golden minutes.

Alex Draper stars as Simon, a divorced (or at least estranged) father who picks up his NYC-based son Finn (Charlie Tacker). Their destination is Vermont, where Simon has purchased a house to renovate and flip. Finn's mother previously caught him watching something inappropriate on his laptop, so Simon utilizes middle-of-nowhere alone time to chat man-to-man...until a unique distraction irks them both. The home's previous owner – a deceased woman named Lydia (Carol Stanzione) – returns from the dead. What's worse? She doesn't want Simon or Finn to ever leave.

This, as you can imagine, does not bode well for Mitton's father/son construction crew.

The Witch In The Window has little time to waste and packs tremendous amounts of thought even into passing lines. Mother Beverly (Arija Bareikis), a hustle-and-bustle city fretter, helplessly fears for Finn's day-to-day safety given school shooting reports, news depression, "this president" – deep apprehensions that require no supernatural influence. Eventually, we learn what exactly Finn streamed that caused Beverly to revoke all online privileges and it's not nudie content. Worries over desensitized upbringings and rapid internet exposure ring ever so clearly. Mitton is majorly invested in highlighting the horrors of everyday life in this new, unable-to-defend-against world that, yes, can make you feel weak or helpless. Parents especially.

Once Simon introduces Finn to his new barren husk of an architectural fixer-upper, the two begin to fill in the blanks of their familial dynamic. Simon does his best to curb Finn's constant aggression towards Beverly, which, he remarks, comes about from catching the hormonal pre-teen on the "13 side of 12." Finn isn't as barbed with Simon, though. Males connect and Simon lays it all out for his son – he's not safe. The world is an unforgiving place. Parents lie and feign confidence versus bursting out into compulsive hysterics. Finn loves his father – and mother – but when alone with Simon, the two are able to scatter childhood curiosities on a sawdust-covered surface and address each one with honesty...as Lydia watches.

Young Charlie Tacker's performance as Finn evolves from disinterested angst, and Draper brings out the best in his co-star. Finn's mix of juvenile courage and fatherly closeness makes him want to stay with dad even after Lydia appears. Simon, alternatively, only cares about keeping Finn safe. Tacker is so good at just being a kid – balancing "ugh, treat me like an adult" with "holy shit, no way" – pushing Draper towards stifled reactions and stumbled words as a parent who's constantly trying to figure it all out. Lydia's malevolence drives Draper down a different path as time goes on (and he responds with aching representation), but these boys make The Witch In The Window into the fatherhood ode it so quietly becomes.

Mitton's navigation of "broken" homes, feelings of neglect and youthful troublemaking all unfold as the farmhouse's "witch in the window" stalks Simon and Finn's every move. Sometimes from afar, sometimes standing in an open doorway as Finn scoots about while Simon confesses past "lies," sometimes screaming "STAY!" in Simon's face to cause a frantic scamper outside. Shots so unassuming – dad repairing a leaky roof, son aimlessly wheeling circles – become a horrifying manifestation of both perceived and insinuated horror. Lydia doesn't even show rot deformations or gnarly makeup effects. The Witch In The Window conjures dread by trapping emotional turmoil inside a menacing house of mirrors on top of the countless gut-wrenching admissions of papa to kin. The never-ending alarm of being a parent at this very moment of 2018.

Atmosphere is Mitton's savviest weapon in this war against impossible unknowns. Subtle conversations give way to punch-drunk undead tricks; isolation echoes through dusty corridors. As electrician Louis (Greg Naughton) tells of Lydia's "curse," cinematographer Justin Kane slowly tours his lens through Simon's bare-bones project with an eerie abrasiveness that artistically sets the ghost woman's stage. Mix that with an almost Hallmark-ish lullaby soundtrack (provided by Mitton himself), and The Witch In The Window evokes dramatic genre heartstring plucks that nestle uncomfortably close with devious intent. Which, of course, is complimentary in horror vocab.

The Witch In The Window is a harrowing, scorchingly poignant and devastating glimpse into societal fears that have redefined family dinner conversations. Where Andy Mitton begins and ends cultivates a complete, massively successful arc that maximizes all the relevance and shivery tension spectral cinema might accomplish. Reflective expressionism, anxious personal accounting and a serviceable lean into chilling bumps-'n-thumps never distracts from bloodline survivalists caring tragically for one another. A Quiet Place, Pyewacket, Cargo – add The Witch In The Window to 2018's ever-growing list of horror movies that have made this a banner year for parental horror. Short, sweet, and like a dagger to the heart.

/Film Review: 8 out of 10