CAST: Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Anthony Mackie, Fred Hechinger, Wyatt Russell, Brian Tyree Henry, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Julianne Moore, Jeanine Serralles, Mariah Bozeman, Liza Colón-Zayas, Tracy Letts
RUNNING TIME: 100 mins
BASICALLY…: An agoraphobic woman (Adams) suspects foul play when her neighbour (Moore) suddenly goes missing…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
Not even five minutes into The Woman in the Window, director Joe Wright’s long-delayed thriller (more on that in a bit), we see a brief clip from its most obvious inspiration: Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, a film which also mostly takes place in a singular location and involves a dastardly murder plot with the main character’s neighbours. However, whereas Rear Window is a masterful display of suspense and intrigue, The Woman in the Window is a dreary, mesmerizingly ill-judged knockoff that doesn’t even attempt to keep its glaring secrets to itself.
The writing was always pretty much on the wall for this film, which underwent heavy reshoots after poor test screenings with most of the criticism aimed towards what was apparently a confusing third act, only for it then to be passed on to Netflix after the movie got tangled in original distributor 20th Century Studios’ (née Fox) Disney acquisition. Sure, its production woes don’t exactly compare to what something like The New Mutants went through (funnily enough, that was another Fox property which got heavily caught up in the studio’s purchase), but having most of its climax redone in the wake of bad audience feedback is almost never a good sign, and screams of a pure lack of faith in just about everything leading up to it. As it turns out, the signs were accurate, as this is a film that will mostly leave you bewildered by some of the choices it’s making here.
Adapted from the best-selling novel A.J. Finn by screenwriter Tracy Letts (who also has a small role in the film), our main character is Anna (Amy Adams), a reclusive child psychologist who, due to her crippling agoraphobia, has not stepped out from her New York home in quite some time. Her husband, Ed (Anthony Mackie), and their young daughter have apparently left her alone – though it is extraordinarily easy to pin together what has really become of them, because the movie telegraphs this “twist” with great force – and her days are spent mixing her medication with glass upon glass of wine. She soon meets her new neighbours the Russells, including the intimidating Alistair (a white-haired Gary Oldman), son Ethan (Fred Hechinger, doing a spot-on impression of Denny from The Room throughout the whole thing), and mother Jane (Julianne Moore), the latter of whom Anna spends a good deal of time bonding with one evening. Not long after, though, Anna witnesses Jane being murdered through the window, and immediately suspects volatile Alistair of doing the deed; however, not only does anyone – especially not a couple of the most incompetent detectives ever, among them Brian Tyree Henry – truly believe her, but another woman claiming to be the real Jane Russell (Jennifer Jason Leigh) puts to rest Anna’s claim that Jane is dead. Now, it’s up to Anna, and Anna alone – seriously, these detectives absolutely suck at their job – to figure everything out while also keeping her mental state in check.
One thing you have to give director Joe Wright credit for, is that no matter what kind of material he’s working from is like, whether it’s classy period fare like Atonement or Darkest Hour, or completely bonkers thrillers like this, he will always find some way to give it a real visual quality (even Pan, by far his worst film to date, had a couple of creative shots every now and then). If nothing else, The Woman in the Window is a rather good-looking film, with Bruno Delbonnel’s cinematography beaming with colour left, right and centre from the windowpanes to the walls to even the numerous night-time shots which, appropriately, do harken back to Hitchcock thrillers like Rear Window. A number of rather artsy camera movements, also one of Wright’s trademarks, are done well too, though they do highlight how this all feels like a movie set instead of any kind of believable home, even one in the middle of an apparently affluent New York neighbourhood.
However, no amount of fancy camerawork can save this absolutely barmy material, which is not only hugely predictable – it barely qualifies as a mystery, because the identity of the killer is apparently the worst-kept secret in this world, even if you haven’t read the original book – but also, for its first half, surprisingly uneventful. Until it picks up a little later (and boy howdy, you’ll need to brace yourselves when it does), it’s mostly a collection of miniscule events loosely stitched next to each other, all set in such a confined space that you can perhaps see how this may have been a more effective play than it is a film. Characters will also randomly pop in and out of scenes to almost hilarious effect, as though just about anyone off the street can walk right into this agoraphobic person’s New York house, with one sequence that contains just about every major character slowly turning into this catastrophic clown car of a scene where you’re half expecting Julianne Moore (who, by this point, is already dead) to suddenly show up as well.
It’s almost sad, because so many of these incredibly talented and Oscar-calibre actors are completely wasted in stock, underwhelming parts where they are left to utterly ham their way through. You have Gary Oldman turning up every now and then to deliver a typical shouty Gary Oldman performance, while Oscar-nominated actress Jennifer Jason Leigh has no more than five lines in the entire movie, despite playing a rather prominent character. Amy Adams, bless her soul, is really trying here, and nine times out of ten she delivers a real showstopper of a performance (quite literally, in one or two cases), but you can always tell that she is simply acting in front of a camera; she does it well, mind you, but it’s the kind of performance which, similar to her recent turn in Hillbilly Elegy, seems a little too self-conscious about the fact that there’s a camera right in front of her, and that Academy voters are potentially watching (which I’m sure they will here, but not for the reasons she is perhaps intending).
And then, there’s that ending which, to reiterate, was heavily reshot after test audiences found it extremely underwhelming. That almost makes me want to see what the original ending for this movie was, because the one that they went with gets so crazy and goes completely off the rails that it very nearly makes up for the sheer uneventfulness of everything before, and it only makes me all the more curious to see what they thought they were improving on. I’m not even kidding when I say that the final third of The Woman in the Window basically turns into a Friday the 13th film, with surprisingly gruesome violence that you’d normally see Jason Voorhees inflict upon a bunch of fornicating teenagers. Beyond the fact that its many twists and turns don’t make a lick of sense, and are quickly summarised in a clumsy set of exposition dumps where it is told, not shown, to us everything that has been going on, this is an absolutely confounding display of what-the-hell-were-they-thinking chaos that even more bizarrely does not match a lot of the previously established tone.
There’s no doubt that The Woman in the Window is an extremely messy movie, filled with plot holes, inconsistent acting, and an exuberant sense of style over substance which is the cinematic equivalent of polishing a Rear Window-inspired turd. That being said, I do not regret seeing this movie; as bonkers and very-not-good as it is, there is some decent entertainment to get out of how misguided it is. In a way, it’s perfect that it’s ended up on Netflix, because this is a film that is destined to become a midnight camp classic you watch with your friends at home after a few drinks, because even when drunk there’s no preparation for how crazy and stupid a movie like this can get.
SO, TO SUM UP…
The Woman in the Window is a baffling exercise in style over substance, amid some absolutely ludicrous turns that colourful cinematography and some entertainingly hammy performances can’t entirely save, though it does make for some fun ironic viewing.