A film review by Craig J. Koban May 25, 2021

THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW j
 

2021, R, 101 mins.

Amy Adams as Anna Fox  /  Gary Oldman as Alistair Russell  /  Julianne Moore as Jane Russell  /  Anthony Mackie as Ed Fox  /  Brian Tyree Henry as Detective Little  /  Jennifer Jason Leigh as Jane Russell  /  Fred Hechinger as Ethan  /  Wyatt Russell as David

Directed by Joe Wright  /  Written by Tracy Letts, based on the novel by A.J. Finn

ORIGINAL FILM

The new Netflix psychological thriller THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW is proof positive that having an acclaimed and highly competent director at the helm alongside a relative smorgasbord of Oscar nominated and winning actors can still produce a stunningly wrongheaded final end product.  

This film contains a fairly intriguing premise (a chronic agoraphobic suffering child psychologist that spends all of her waking moments inside thinks she witnesses a murder next door) that will have many among you thinking that it bares many obvious similarities to Alfred Hitchcock's REAR WINDOW.  Adapted from the mystery novel of the same name by A.J. Finn, THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW becomes so muddled, so uninspired, and so illogically scripted the longer it progresses that you're left wondering why any of these highly talented and sought after people behind the scenes saw the value in the project.  The movie is gorgeously shot, to be sure, but that just masks its ultimately lackluster and overwrought inner shell.   

The sufferer in question is Anna Fox (Amy Adams), who was once a promising psychologist in her field, but because of a past trauma (that the film ultimately unveils later on), she has become so paralyzed with a fear of venturing outside of her Manhattan home that she can't leave it...like...ever.  Complicating her current mental illness is the fact that she's downing most of her meds with alcohol, which rarely provides for safe outcomes.  She tries as she can to make the most out her days secluded inside by watching old classic movies (some of which are, yes, from Hitchcock) and by talking to her ex-husband (an unseen Anthony Mackie) and daughter (Mariah Bozeman) on the phone.  She also gets semi-frequent visits by her own therapist (Tracy Letts, who also adapts the screenplay here) and her basement dwelling tenant in David (Wyatt Russell), who knows that his landlord is a few fries short of a Happy Meal, but nevertheless tends to himself and tries to keep his distance.   

Things change forever for Anna with the arrival of a new family moving in across the street in the Russells, and based on most casual observances appear to be a clan on the verge of ruin.  There's the control freak husband, Alistair (Gary Oldman), his emotionally out-there wife in Jane (Julianne Moore), and their painfully awkward minded teenage son Ethan (Fred Hechinger).  Anna is befriended one night by Jane, who comes over to help Anna deal with some unruly trick or treaters on Halloween, but something just seems...off...about this woman from the get-go.  What really seems off is when Anna is convinced that she has witnessed the anger-induced Alistair murder Jane in cold blood, which prompts her to call the authorities.   When Detectives Little (Bryan Tyree Henry) and Noreilli (Jeanine Serralles) show up they have a very hard time buying her story, mostly because Alistair also appears with them, and with his very alive wife in Jane in tow.  There's one thing, though: she's now a completely different woman (played by Jennifer Jason Leigh).  It's at this point when Anna has to seriously confront her own mental well being and sanity, which poses many questions at audience members:  Did she truly witness a grisly murder perpetrated by Alistair against his real wife?  If so, which Jane is the real wife?  Or, is everything that Anna saw just a figment of her drug induced/hallucinatory mind?  

 

 

THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW was directed by Joe Wright, who has made many films that I've greatly admired, from period pieces like ATONEMENT and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE to the terribly underrated action thriller HANNA (I'm willing to turn a blind eye and forget the one mediocre blip on his resume in his laughably terrible Peter Pan reboot PAN).  I think that this newest film allowed the filmmaker to work within a Hitchcockian sandbox, and, to be fair, THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW never hides the fact that it's aggressively referencing REAR WINDOW and other Hitchcock flicks throughout (hell, the first images in the film are shots from Hitch's films on Anna's TV screen).  And, in its defense, THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW is not the first REAR WINDOW knock off to come out of Hollywood and it has compelling ideas at its core about the nature of a reliable narrator/protagonist, not to mention whether or not Anna is in full grasp of actual reality or has just succumbed to the worst type of nightmarish delusions.  Then there's the added meta quality of the story in terms of a unwell woman that has decided to fully segregate herself from everyone and everything in the outside world and is essentially in a self-imposed indefinite quarantine (granted, the film was made well before the current pandemic kicked in and went through a dreadful post-production and release fiasco, so the real world analogies it conjures are purely coincidental). 

The real fundamental issues at play with THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW is that the modestly good elements that the film offers up in the opening stages become completely undone when it comes to basic execution.  Worse yet is that the answers to all of the tantalizing queries that the script poses are never once satisfyingly answered, with everything hurtling towards a monumentally ill conceived and horrifically violent final act that seems like it was a beyond obvious product of some hasty, eleventh hour reshoots.  THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW is all about superficial teases: tons of build-up and anticipation of what's to come, only to have none of that paid off in any rewarding manner.  When the curtains (ahem!) are pulled on all of the narrative secrets - and after an awful lot of red herrings are thrown at viewers - the final end results are woefully anti-climatic and culminate on a whimper instead of a roar.  When I sat through the final 20 minutes of this film - which owes more to B-grade mad slasher/serial killer flicks than it does the work of Hitchcock - I was frankly kind of shocked.  Very few modern thrillers made by solid and established directors go completely bonkers and fly off the logic rails as badly as THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW.   

And considering the absolute embarrassment of acting riches on display here, I was equally shocked to discover that all of these acclaimed thespians feel like they've all been airlifted in from totally different genre films altogether.  There's no performance symmetry here at all.  Oldman is one of our greatest living acting treasures, but he's so embarrassingly histrionic and in pure obnoxious camera mugging mode here that I never felt that his character was a grounded entity.  Jennifer Jason Leigh and Julianne Moore are given a potentially meatier role (or...roles...?) to play here, but are given so little screentime that it seems like a horribly misappropriation of talent.  Adams might be the only actor here that seems to be giving a damn and fully attempts to invest herself in her very tricky role.  Too much over-acting would have made Anna a hopeless caricature, whereas underplaying her wouldn't accurately evoke this woman's obvious emotional suffering and unraveling mental state.  It's great that Adams does small wonders here in never fully tipping off whether Anna is to be trusted or is just nuttier than a proverbial fruitcake.  What does her good work in, though, is that Anna never fully materializes as a likeable heroine that invites audience sympathy or rooting interest.  Actually, there's so very few likeable characters that permeate the film that it becomes almost impossible to care about what happens to anyone. 

The writing was clearly on the wall for THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW from the beginning.  It was shot years ago and scheduled to be theatrically released by 20th Century Pictures back in 2019, but then poor test screenings led to multiple reshoots and a release delay to May of 2020.  Wright's picture was then delayed because of the pandemic and also by Disney acquiring 20th Century Fox.  Very few films these days can claim they were the victim of cruel circumstances in being affected by disastrous early audience reactions, a pandemic and a massive corporate merger.  However, that can't be used to defend what a half baked and largely unfulfilling thriller that we have here, and THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW, in its current form, barely feels worthy of a mass theatrical release.  It's no wonder that this once would-be piece of Oscar bait was unceremoniously dumped on Netflix a few weeks ago.   

And If you want to see a relatively well oiled and entertaining REAR WINDOW knockoff then I would recommend that you completely skip this mostly dreadful film and instead seek out 2007s very underrated DISTURBIAThat one is worth secluding yourself in your home for the night to watch.  

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