You’d be forgiven for raising an eyebrow early on in Andy Mitton’s The Witch in the Window. Initially, it seems that the film has already tipped its own hand with an overt and almost clumsy reveal of the titular witch. But you’d be mistaken if you took this for an amateur attempt to secrete hidden spectres and uncanny figures into the background of the movie. Instead, the film, like the recurrent visual motif of a “magic eye picture” revolves around both the audience and the characters looking beyond that which seems immediately apparent to see what is really there.

The film centres around the relationship between tearaway teen Finn (Charlie Tacker), and his divorcee dad Simon (Alex Draper). Having bought an old country house, Simon intends to do it up and sell it on, using the time to bond with his son and get him out of the city awhile. However, the deeper intentions of either may not quite be what they seem. Nor is the figure of a woman who seems to be watching them, unseen. And when strange events begin to occur, and a neighbour tells them about the “witch” who died in the house, the story starts to take a more sinister turn.

At its core, The Witch in the Window is a very real human drama. One where the difficult but sincere relationship between the man and boy takes precedence over any supernatural events. Unspoken words hang heavy, with the believable acting of the leads making the story genuinely engrossing between the moments of horror. Even Carol Stanzione‘s turn as Lydia, the titular witch, is remarkably underplayed, which suits the narrative and stops the whole affair from descending into farce or schlock.

If there is a failing, it’s in the lack of scope to the story, and a midpoint turn that will throw some people. Ultimately, if you go in expecting something along the lines of a Conjuring film, you’ll be somewhat disappointed. Instead, Mitton has woven a touching drama with a horror bent that adds depth and flavour without ever detracting from the emotional core.

Available to stream on Shudder now