Monday, April 22, 2019

HGTV Horrors

One of my favorite surprise watches of the last decade of straight-to-wherever-but-not-the-theaters horror is YellowBrickRoad, a film that crashes its landing but serves as a strange, creepy treat up to its last few minutes. One half of that directing team went on to make today’s feature. My expectations were high. 

Quick Plot: Simon (YBR's Richard Dreyfuss stand-in Alex Draper) is a chronic house flipper separated from his city-dwelling, anxiety-ridden wife and their slightly mischievous but good-hearted 12-year-old son Finn. After Finn does some unsupervised cell phone digging, Mom sends him out with Simon to a newly acquired Vermont country cottage for the summer. 

Hoping to renovate the long-empty house into a three-person family home, Simon delves into his project and bonding with Finn. The pair grows closer as they learn some of the odd tics of the house, and even more so once a nervous alcoholic electrician neighbor briefs them on its strange history.

It seems the last occupant was a lonely woman named Lydia who may have been responsible for shoving her husband and son into a deadly piece of farm equipment, Fargo-style. For the rest of her life, Lydia sat in the upstairs window, motionlessly watching neighborhood children...who eventually discovered the reason for her inaction was because she'd been dead for years. 

Happy housewarming!

While spunky Finn is initially thrilled at the possibility that his new home is haunted, the excitement wears off quickly when father and son meet the titular ghost. There's no denying that something is very, very wrong, and Simon wastes no time or dad points in sending Finn on the next bus home, vowing to somehow overcome Lydia's spirit while also doing some serious fixer upping.

Running at just 77 minutes, The Witch In the Window is kind of what I wanted Ti West's disappointing The Innkeepers to be: an eerie, entertaining ghost story that does a lot with a little. Draper and young actor Charlie Tacker are a warm, likable father-son pair, and it's easy to become invested in the fate not just of their lives, but of their relationship. 

Written, directed, edited, scored, and probably catered by Andy Mitton, The Witch In the Window is an intimate film that wisely zooms in on just one set of characters and the horrors they face. I'm not always the biggest fan of restrained ghost stories, often because tension can turn to tedium. The Witch In the Window avoids this fate, possibly because it wastes none of its brief running time. This isn't the scariest movie of its ilk, but it's involving, creepy, and immensely satisfying.

High Points
Simon isn't really winning any father of the year trophies, but he makes all the right decisions when confronted with danger, something incredibly refreshing in a genre that often fails this type of challenge

The Haunting of Hill House has made me look for hidden ghosts in every corner of any TV screen, and The Witch In the Window gives you plenty of eye candy in that regard

Low Points
Honestly, there’s nothing this movie lacks. Sure, I could have used more of Lydia’s history, but at its breezy under-80-minute length, anything more might have robbed the film of its perfectly sized punch

Lessons Learned
People don't go to Vermont for the oysters

Banishment means you have to go somewhere with nothing

Never double down on a good burn

The Witch In the Window is a perfect justification for an on-sale Shudder subscription. It's a small, strong little thriller that you won't find on the other services, and its unassuming packaging would have made it easy to look past in a vast video catalog. It won’t sit with me with quite the same heft as YellowBrickRoad, but it’s well above average for a straight-to-streaming genre film you’ve probably never heard of. 

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