A few weeks ago, Shannon had the chance to speak with writer/director Andy Mitton about his latest film THE WITCH IN THE WINDOW, which just had its World Premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival on July 23. During their chat, they discussed everything from the emotional inspiration behind the film’s premise, the term “elevated horror”, and what it was like to work on his first solo directorial feature.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Hi Andy, it’s so great to speak with you today about your latest film! For those who may not be familiar with THE WITCH IN THE WINDOW can you tell us a little bit about it?
Andy Mitton: THE WITCH IN THE WINDOW is a haunted house movie, that for me, is also a personal story about my fears of parenthood. It follows a father and his 12-year-old son who go to rural Vermont to try and flip a house and while there, they encounter the spirit of an infamously cruel woman named Lydia who lived there previously. What unfolds is sort of a lesson for the father in learning that he is unable to keep his child safe. For me, as a newer father, that has sort of been consuming me, so it was easy for me to try and fold that into a haunted house movie.
Nightmarish Conjurings: The film heavily focuses on the relationship between a father and his son and originally I was going to ask you if that was inspired by your own life which you just answered (laughs). With that said, I also got the sense that the film had a touch of commentary about what is going on in the world right now, would that be correct?
AM: It’s funny, I was just looking at one of the headlines in the NY Times called “Raising a Child in a Doomed World” and I was like I don’t even want to read that! (laughs). It’s a funny mix with this movie in having that commentary as I always think that stories should come first. If I’m holding these feelings and these fears than I have built some pathways into the story for them to flow while making sure I’m telling a satisfying story. As you grow as a filmmaker you have to build those pathways for your messages and your opinions to go down because the audience doesn’t want that first. They won’t hear those messages instead only hearing what you, the director, has to say instead of your characters and your story.
Nightmarish Conjurings: You shot the film on location in Vermont in a beautiful old house that was perfect for encompassing the atmosphere you were creating. How did you go about finding the location of this house?
AM: It was a very unusual way to make a movie in that I knew I wanted it to be in Middlebury, Vermont. I went to school there and it’s my alma-mater so it’s sort of my safe space. Since this was my first time directing on my own, I was sort of terrified, but knew if I could be in that place I’d be good. Alex Draper, who is the lead in this movie, is a tenure professor of theater at Middlebury and was in Jesse and I’s film YellowBrickRoad. We stayed friends after YellowBrickRoad and I wanted to write a part for him because I knew he could carry a movie. I called him and asked if I came to him and shot the movie in Vermont would he be able to help me find a creepy house. It turned out that the college had bought this house as a place to put people when visiting the college. I think the previous owners had actually died in it a couple years back because people started complaining about being really freaked out which I thought sounded great (laughs)! Usually when writing a movie you don’t know where you are going to shoot it so you have to redesign all your plans; in this case, I actually knew the house before I wrote the script. I wrote the script for the house and for Alex, which is something you almost never get to do. I really got to pace around the place and let the story pieces come to me which is a rare gift but was a lot of fun.
Nightmarish Conjurings: I noticed about halfway through the film the movie takes this turn where we start to doubt the father’s sanity. Can you elaborate on this a bit?
AM: I wanted to be deeply in the psychological experience of the character. For me, what scares me, is a mix of those satisfying story clicks, where things connect and you have that clarity, as well as that area of the unknown, the uncanny, and the feeling of not being sure of our footing. That mix of things, for me, can be exciting. There is a sequence in the film where it plays with that but it’s also just another idea, maybe a grounded idea, of what a haunting might be. It can be internal and get in your head which then allows for a lot of doors to open up as to where you can go as a writer.
Nightmarish Conjurings: As you mentioned, this is your first time directing without your usual co-director, Jesse Holland. What was it like to be on your own for this film?
AM: It was more work (laughs). It was less fun in a sense because I didn’t have my buddy with me. Jesse and I remain in complete support of each other but it’s hard not to feel the loss of a very talented person on your team. For me, it was about trying to find the advantages and being hopeful that I would be more confident in my voice and create something for better or worse. That said, as someone who wears a lot of hats in his processes, as does Jesse when we work together, I try and stay very skeptical of myself and very collaborative with people who are around me. I want to make sure people know that they can and should tell me and push me in the other direction if they see me straying or getting into some sort of vacuum.
Nightmarish Conjurings: What I love so much about this film, and your previous work with Jesse, is that there is a lot more depth in the storytelling which allows them to be more relatable. In the case of THE WITCH IN THE WINDOW we are seeing a broken family tryingto rebuild with a backdrop of a decrepit house being completely renovated, which allows for some interesting parallels with the themes. Can you elaborate on that more?
AM: This term “elevated horror” is being thrown around a lot which I think is sort of funny. It almost just feeds into this sort of anti-intellectualism and it almost gives people permission to think of it that way. I think for me, it just means it doesn’t have to be pure escapism, that it’s okay to be both and to find those reflections as we are escaping into a dark story. That can be valuable, especially now. I will admit that I want to be someone who goes inside of a story right now and tries not to just escape it. I think everyone wants to feel, in whatever little thing they are doing in their lives right now, that the time and energy that they’re taking to make art, has some meat on its bones. That notion is actionable in that it’s pushing us forward in some small way. I think that’s important, even in horror.
Nightmarish Conjurings: Now that THE WITCH IN THE WINDOW has had its World Premiere at Fantasia, what can we expect from you moving forward?
AM: I have several scripts that I’m trying to make and I’ll wisely stay mostly quiet (laughs). I’m hoping that producers are beginning to reach for what I know I can grab because I really want to start playing rock ‘n roll (laughs). The scripts that I have going are a little bit more dynamic and will feel a little bit more like a horror/comic thing, for example, I’m trying out a high school voodoo doll story, so we will see what happens!