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Joe Wright's thriller, starring Amy Adams as a traumatized shut-in, is a terrible excuse for a movie.
THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW (Joe Wright). 100 minutes. Now streaming on Netflix Canada. Rating: N
There’s a good movie in The Woman In The Window. As a matter of fact, there are four: Rear Window, Dark Passage, Laura and Spellbound, all of which can be seen playing on various screens in the Manhattan townhouse where the film sets all of its action. They’re nods to the rich history of the suspense genre, and if any of them was currently streaming on Netflix I would urge you to go watch those instead. Because The Woman In The Window is just awful.
Somehow overheated and undercooked at the same time, The Woman In The Window – adapted from the paint-by-numbers bestseller by A.J. Finn, who has his own issues – is the latest example of director Joe Wright attempting to conquer a genre for which he has no instincts whatsoever. People will try to hate-watch this movie. It will defeat them.
Wright, who made his name with crowd-pleasing prestige period pieces like Pride & Prejudice, Atonement and Anna Karenina and who more recently directed Gary Oldman to an Oscar in the Winston Churchill biopic Darkest Hour, is one of the most exhausting filmmakers of his generation, an artist who cannot stop reminding you how hard he’s working. He is working very, very hard indeed in The Woman In The Window – working to obscure a couple of crushingly obvious plot twists, and working to fill time with a meager narrative and working to show off how many thrillers he’s seen. And I will give him this: watching The Woman In The Window also feels like work.
Amy Adams, who is so much better than this material, stars as Anna Fox, a child therapist who hasn’t left her house in 10 months, for reasons. Anna isn’t totally isolated, mind you: she has a downstairs tenant, a young musician (Wyatt Russell) who moonlights as a handyman, and her therapist (Tracy Letts) makes house calls, and she talks to her husband (Anthony Mackie) and daughter (Mariah Bozeman) every day.
But Anna doesn’t go outside, thanks to a combination of agoraphobia and anxiety that basically renders her incapable of opening her own door. She’s working on it, or at least she says she is. She plays with her cat. She takes her meds. She drinks a lot of wine. And she watches the people wandering around outside.
A family is moving in across the road, the Russells. Teenage son Ethan (Fred Hechinger) brings a candle over; his mother makes them. He seems a little awkward; social anxiety, maybe abuse? Anna would like to help him, and says all the right things, but can’t quite connect.
Anyway, she has other things to worry about: on Halloween night, mean kids egg her house and Anna has a panic attack trying to shoo them away. A woman (Julianne Moore) comes to her aid; she says she’s Ethan’s mother, and she seems pretty cool, but she also has a weird hesitation when Anna asks her name.
We’re about 20 minutes into The Woman In The Window at this point, and literally nothing has happened. I’m pointing out the time because I have a thing about not discussing plot details after the first act of a movie, and also because in this case, there’s just no point.
Almost immediately after the nice lady bids Anna goodnight, the movie flies giddily off the rails, with Anna convinced she’s witnessed a murder in the Russell home but unable to get the authorities to believe her, just like Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window. Anna insists that Mama Russell is dead; Papa Russell (Oldman, doing a short-fused silver fox thing) produces his wife, who is not only very much alive but not Julianne Moore at all: she’s Jennifer Jason Leigh!
(Fun fact: Moore and Oldman are both in the overheated thriller Hannibal; Leigh starred in the overheated thriller Single White Female. Neither of those movies are currently on Netflix either.)
Anna is very confused by all of this, and we can tell because Wright and cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel go full giallo in depicting her state of mind, and the movie lurches into a second act that goes on for goddamn forever. Hallucinations! Flashbacks! A hallucination of a flashback, where the supporting characters bear witness to Anna’s trauma by standing in formation behind her as she relives something none of them can see! I always wonder how a moment like this would look to people standing outside of it; Wright, clearly, has not.
Is that it? Hardly! The Woman In The Window has another twist to reveal, and it does so in an even more hysterical fashion, climaxing with the sort of rain-swept cat-and-mouse rooftop battles that only happen in the movies. The best of them echo in our memory because they’re built on character, logic and the laws of physics. It is reasonable to say that this one… doesn’t. There’s a moment of brutal violence that’s clearly meant to be shocking and horrific; my only thought when it happened was concern for the actor who’s involved, because that gif is going to follow them for the rest of their life.
At least everyone got paid, right? That’s got to count for something.