The Woman in the Window desperately wants to be something it isn’t: a modern take on Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window.
From the director whose range goes from compelling period dramas (Atonement, Pride and Prejudice, Darkest Hour, Anna Karenina) to dull blockbusters (Hanna, Pan), comes The Woman in the Window, the last Fox 2000 Pictures film, which was dumped by Disney during the COVID-19 pandemic and sold to Netflix, where most movies go to die inside an ever-growing algorithm. Based on the novel from A.J. Finn (which seems to be vastly inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, Rear Window), the film tells the story of Dr. Anna Fox (Amy Adams), who is agoraphobic, meaning that she perceives extreme anxiety from going outside, having been responsible for a traumatic accident which caused the death of her husband (Anthony Mackie) and daughter (Mariah Bozeman). She now lives alone with her tenant (Wyatt Russell) and numbs her trauma by mixing her medication with alcohol, even after being warned by her psychologist (Tracy Letts) that it could cause hallucinations.
A new family moves into a house next door and Anna develops a bond with the son, Ethan Russell (Fred Hechinger), and the mother, Jane Russell (Julianne Moore). However, when Anna thinks she has seen the father, Alistair (Gary Oldman), murder Jane, she calls the police and learns that Jane (now played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) is alive and well. Of course, the police thinks Anna is delusional, and must forget about everything she saw, as it didn’t happen, but, after being unknowingly stalked by an intruder in her house and fearing for her life, she is hellbent on finding out what happened to the real Jane Russell. While The Woman in the Window’s efforts are admirable, featuring a star-studded cast mostly giving their all, its uninspired and dour premise makes for a pretty insipid viewing experience, as the film desperately wants to be the next iteration of Rear Window.
With a cast this incredible, featuring some of the finest actors working today, and a script penned by Tracy Letts, you’d potentially think that The Woman in the Window could be something other than a quasi re-hash of Rear Window. But its TV indication of one of the final moments of Hitchcock’s film says otherwise, as we mostly spend time with Amy Adams’ protagonist feeling increasingly delusional and paranoid with everything she sees. The film unfortunately depicts a rather serious disorder like agoraphobia as a sort of bumbling plot device, only serving to make Anna Fox look and sound completely out of her mind, which makes many of the film’s key sequences unintentionally hysterical. One scene in particular, in which Anna tries to convince Detective Little (Brian Tyree Henry) that she’s not crazy and begs the detective to believe everything she saw is particularly laughable, with dialogue written by someone who has no understanding of the mental anguish and trauma a person with agoraphobia suffers from. The film’s exploration of the disorder is also terribly surface-level, using jumpscares or bright lights to spectacularize agoraphobia instead of raising awareness of it or using it as a trait to develop the character of Anna Fox as someone who has been suffering since the death of her husband and has created herself delusions, through medication, that he and her daughter are still alive.
Thankfully, Amy Adams gives the best performance she can under a pretty dour script, which she has been doing for a while now. Aside from a large paycheck, I never understood the thrill of having A-list actors starring in films they clearly know isn’t very good. The material isn’t good enough for them to justify their presence and tarnish their excellent resumé with box-office and critical bombs. This, Josstice League, Hillbilly Elegy and Vice were all painful films to sit through, but all of them have a star-studded cast and a good performance from Amy Adams, but undermine the talent she has when the script is very good, such as in films like Enchanted (yes!), The Master, Man of Steel, The Muppets and American Hustle. The same can be said for every other actor who is in this (minus Fred Hechinger, who gives the most cartoonish performance of the year, competing with Jared Leto in The Little Things)—we’ve seen actors like Anthony Mackie and Wyatt Russell shine in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, and their minor roles, while decent, add next to nothing in the story of The Woman in the Window.
Gary Oldman won an Oscar for his performance as Sir Winston Churchill in Joe Wright’s last movie, Darkest Hour, but in this he’s contrived with a silly wig and a loud-mouthed, caricatured portrayal of an extremely abusive and overprotective husband. Julianne Moore and Jennifer Jason Leigh shined in films such as Safe/Still Alice and The Hateful Eight, respectively, but they are completely wasted here and have nothing interesting to do, even if they make the most of their limited screen time. The same can be said for the ever-so-great Brian Tyree Henry, who has starred in some of the best films of the last decade (most notably in Steve McQueen’s Widows) but feels terribly wasted in The Woman in the Window. And that’s one of the film’s biggest problems: amazing talent wasted—something that, if your script isn’t that great, shouldn’t happen at any costs.
During the end of the film, a twist (or revelation) happens that is supposed to shift the movie in a different direction than it initially sought out to do, something that Hitchcock did incessantly in his pictures, particularly in North by Northwest and Psycho. There is that Hitchcock-esque vibe found in the movie’s climax, but its big reveal falls terribly flat on its face and becomes yet another run-of-the-mill slasher-type movie with a fight staged in the vein of Psycho and Vertigo. There’s supposed to be some form of cathartic release happen when Anna Fox confronts her trauma (and, of course, beats it—since we’re going in the typical 3-act hero’s journey), but it never really happens. Instead, everything in the film’s third act comes across as silly and undermines many of its serious themes it wants to deal with: trauma, anxiety, depression, spousal and child abuse. All of them are poorly treated and seem to be objectified and caricatured instead of shedding a thoughtful light by drawing a serious portrait of someone who cannot go outside due to an event caused by herself that has traumatized her.
It’s a shame, because The Woman in the Window is a film brimming with potential—directed by someone who has proven himself many times in his career (though his forte seems to be period dramas, and, every time he has steered off that genre, his attempts at diversifying his portfolio have been unsuccessful) and assembling a star-studded cast of some of the best talent working today. However, its uneventful and cartoonish script prevents it from being any good and memorable. Maybe it’s best for everyone involved to forget about this movie altogether and hopefully star in more exciting pictures and, from the looks of it, they probably did.
The Woman in The Window is now available to watch on Netflix.
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