Starring: Amy Adams (Arrival), Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour), Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker), Fred Hechinger (News of the World), Wyatt Russell (22 Jump Street), Brian Tyree Henry (Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse), Jennifer Jason Leigh (The Hateful Eight), Julianne Moore (Still Alice)
Director: Joe Wright (Atonement)
Writer: Tracy Letts (August: Osage County)
Runtime: 1 hour 40 minutes
Release Date: 14th May (Netflix)
A story about a woman struggling with mental health whilst being trapped in her own home doesn’t sound as interesting as it would have two years ago, does it? The paranoic chills of The Woman in the Window might have hit harder if it had released in cinemas as intended back in October 2019, but this is yet another Hollywood project that’s been through the wringer of test screenings and reshoots before being dumped unceremoniously at Netflix’s doorstep. When that happens despite the film’s distinguished creative team, Oscar-calibre cast and being based on a popular novel, it’s very easy to presume the film is a complete flop. Unfortunately in this case, and very much like the movie itself, that first presumption is ultimately the correct one.
The Woman in the Window makes no secret of its influences at any point. In its opening moments, it borrows the foreboding tracking shots and moody lighting of David Fincher thrillers, and a scene from Rear Window playing on a television telegraphs its obvious inspiration from the Alfred Hitchcock classic. These alone wouldn’t make The Woman in the Window a bad movie, as even some of the greatest films have been homages to other stories. The problem is that the plot is fashioned almost entirely out of the scraps of other, better films, and doesn’t even use those ideas to say anything particularly interesting.
What follows will be utterly predictable to anyone with even a mild interest in mystery thrillers, as trope after trope is thrown at the screen, with the only surprises being the result of assuming the filmmakers wouldn’t stoop so low as to be that obvious. The story itself is told well enough cinematically, and by the midpoint it does a commendable job of ramping up the tension and fear that puts you in the mindset of its unreliable protagonist. However, after a stunningly facepalm-worthy second act twist, the film only further spirals into a final reveal and climax that is not only unoriginal but works actively against one of the core themes of the story. For a movie that attempts to sympathise with those struggling with mental illness, it seems surprisingly eager to also jump on stereotypical negative depictions of them. Ultimately though, it’s just a symptom of a movie that is trying far too hard to sensationalise what might have played better if grounded in reality.
With a high-profile director like Joe Wright in the director’s chair, it’s no wonder such a stellar cast assembled for the production, but the results are middling at best. Amy Adams takes centre stage as the titular woman Anna Fox, rarely even leaving the screen for the duration, and she does a solid job with the material given to her. It’s pretty obvious from the get-go that Anna isn’t exactly lucid, and Adams is great at making her sympathetic and putting you into her confused mindset, even managing to pull some humour in the midst of its darkest moments. Also providing strong supporting performances are Wyatt Russell as Anna’s beleaguered lodger David and the prolific Brian Tyree Henry (seriously, isn’t he in everything these days?) as the compassionate Detective Little. Anthony Mackie even manages to put in some decent work despite spending most of the plot as a voice on the phone.
The rest of the cast don’t fare as well. Gary Oldman, having recently won his Oscar working with Wright on Darkest Hour, flips back to his scenery-chewing ways as the cantankerous Alastair Russell. It’s a performance that seems like it was pulled from an even more exaggerated film than this, with Oldman delivering every line in either a foreboding whisper or an abusive yell. Julianne Moore also seems to be acting at a slightly higher dial than everyone else, immediately signalling there’s something more sinister about her character, whilst Jeanine Serralles is aggravating as the stereotypical dismissive victim-blaming cop, and Jennifer Jason Leigh is relegated to a mere prop; methinks her role was one of the main victims of the extensive reshoots. However, the film’s biggest liability both story and acting-wise is Fred Hechinger as Oldman’s son Ethan. Whilst never outright stated, the character has been clearly coded as on the autism spectrum, and Hechinger’s performance ticks every trope on the checklist. It’s hard to elaborate further without going into major story spoilers, but any savvy viewer only has to watch his first scene with Adams and imagine the worst and most obvious thing they could do with the character, because that’s what happens to him.
Even in his more regrettable projects, Joe Wright always manages to make a great-looking movie if not necessarily a great-feeling one. Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel makes the most of the film’s restricted setting and photographs Anna’s empty house in an artful and elegant way; by the film’s end, you practically have the house’s floor plan burned into your head. Danny Elfman’s score is also suitably eerie and foreboding, and the film’s scattered editing adds to the uneasiness whenever Anna’s mental state starts to deteriorate.
The Woman in the Window is too well-made on a technical level to be a complete disaster, but good cinematography and some decent performances can’t save a story constructed by stitching together pieces of every other mystery thriller ever. Joe Wright is certainly better at impersonating David Fincher than he was aping Baz Luhrmann with Pan, but even so this screams of a film made by a reluctant journeyman looking for a paycheque. It’s often too easy to assume every troubled production inevitably results in a bad film when that is far from the case, but subpar movies like The Woman in the Window are what reinforce that misconception. With such a glut of great comparable films already available on Netflix and other streaming services, you’d be better off watching one of those than this disposable dreck.
FINAL VERDICT: 3.5/10