I’m a bit wary of the ravetastic reviews of this film on Shudder, many praising the ‘original idea’ of the plot in which a man, separated from his wife, tries to reconnect with his 12-year-old son through fixing up a house with a grim history. It’s not a poor film by any means, but one would do better pressing play knowing it is 90% family drama, 10% horror movie. For me, it’s a formula this movie doesn’t pull off.
The problem with blending horror and family drama is that, as compelling as the family story may be, most of the tension in horror comes around building an atmosphere – waiting for something to strike, to haunt throughout, and/or to insidiously seep its way into an unsettling ending, so a balance needs to be struck. But with The Witch in the Window, Shudder’s latest original, there is the waiting – and that’s almost all there is.
It’s been done successfully many times over – Hereditary as a recent, excellent example – or as far back as The Innocents (1961). Each film had an undercurrent of unease, of dread, and of horror wrought from everyday, relatable terrors such as grief, along with its chosen bundle of scares. If you want to watch a low-key drama with some dependable performances or show someone an almost-horror movie, this one’s for you.