The Woman in the Window is a Hitchcockian thriller that unpacks the lies, deceptions, and nightmares surrounding Dr Anna Fox (Amy Adams), a child psychologist and possibly unhinged woman in jeopardy. Anna is an alcoholic agoraphobic who loses track of her meds while watching old movies and her neighbours across the way. Her beautiful brownstone apartment in Manhattan is revealed as her luxurious ‘ivory tower’ in the opening scenes—with a dollhouse and drawings on the fridge suggesting an absent family. There’s even a short clip of James Stewart from Rear Window (1954) on her television screen in the foreground, to make the link to Hitchcock crystal clear.
As Anna watches the new family who move in opposite, she starts to speculate about their lives. She then meets Ethan (Fred Hechinger), the Russell family’s teenage son, and then Jane Russell (Julianne Moore / Jennifer Jason Leigh), before an encounter with the obnoxious Alistair (Gary Oldman), who calls her “a drunken pill-popping cat lady” and warns her to keep out of their business. Anna’s convinced she’s witnessed something horrific take place in the Russell’s apartment, but as sessions with her psychiatrist and memory flashes reveal her past, we and the police are left in doubt of her sanity. But she continues to investigate the Russell’s past online, unravelling a dangerous mystery.
Director Joe Wright—whose Darkest Hour (2017) finally earned Gary Oldman an Academy Award for his role as Winston Churchill—makes a brave attempt at adapting A.J Finn’s bestselling novel. However, the film was beset by problems and reshoots were required after abysmal 2019 test screenings, which got delayed thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic. Disney then sold the film on after it bought out 20th Century Fox, and it’s only now found a home on Netflix.
Some aspects of the film are certainly attractive and entertaining. The opening sequence and milieu are lush. “I liked the idea of the kind of minimalist constraints of making a film that is completely set in one house,” Wright has said. He certainly explores the concept—as Anna Fox falls asleep in front of the TV, the black-and-white screen seems to leer over her, and as she confronts the police and the Russells in her apartment, an upturned car in the snow suddenly appears to her in another room, beautiful and surreal, like a scene from a Gothic fairy tale, as she’s also forced to confront her past.
Cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, whose previous films include French classic Amelie (2001) as well as Darkest Hour, brings a painterly approach and uses rich colour palettes and exquisite lighting of the apartment sets, which enhance Wright’s long panning shots and sudden zooms to emphasise tension and underline Anna’s mood swings. The windows of the apartments opposite Anna’s home at night are shown as illuminated screens within our dark screen, offering voyeuristic glimpses into other people’s lives—again riffing on Rear Window.
Amy Adams, who deserved an Oscar for her performance in Arrival (2016) puts in a layered performance as the flaky, tortured Anna. “I spent so much time acting alone on that set that I would get really excited about shooting the scenes where I act opposite the other actors,” she revealed in an interview. Adams clicks into gear when things get edgy but, somehow, we’re not all that engaged in the ultimate outcome.
Fred Hechinger plays the teen with a dark secret well, while Julianne Moore and Jennifer Jason Leigh have fun with their confusing twin roles in the mystery. Gary Oldman’s vibrant with barely controlled rage and frustration, Wyatt Russell (The Falcon and the Winter Soldier) plays the moody tenant in the basement, and Anthony Mackie (Avengers: Endgame) even puts in a brief appearance as Anna’s husband. But no number of excellent actors can create a new classic. As with many movies that reshoot after a bad response from test audiences, it kind of loses momentum and, by the denouement, seems rather ‘trope by numbers’ (although there’s a fine use of the house and its claustrophobic areas). Screenwriter Tracy Letts (who also plays psychiatrist Dr Landy in the film) has admitted that the whole experience “kinda sucked”, especially as he wasn’t involved in the rewrites.
The Woman in the Window is probably worth a watch if you’ve enjoyed similar films. It does have some tense and moving scenes and is ultimately a journey of redemption. But Rear Window is still the unchallenged classic and The Girl on the Train (2016) is a more ground-breaking and memorable entry in the ‘drunken heroine turned detective’ genre. Also, while the trope of a women’s testimony being disbelieved remains relevant, with everyone just starting to emerge tentatively from lockdown in the real world, this film’s claustrophobic subject matter may not currently be to everyone’s taste!
USA | 2021 | 100 MINUTES | 2.39:1 | COLOUR | ENGLISH
Cast & Crew
director: Joe Wright.
writer: Tracy Letts (based on the novel by A.J Finn).
starring: Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Anthony Mackie, Fred Hechinger, Wyatt Russell, Brian Tyree Henry, Jennifer Jason Leigh & Julianne Moore.