(THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW is out now on Netflix.)
THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW stars Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Julianne Moore, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Anthony Mackie. It is directed by Joe Wright, the man behind ATONEMENT, ANNA KARENINA, and DARKEST HOUR. On paper, WOMAN should be a bonafide thriller hit. In reality, it’s one of the worst films of the year.
Adams plays Dr. Anna Fox, a former shrink who is now an agoraphobe living in seclusion. Her husband and son aren’t in her life anymore, and though the film tries to play coy with their exclusion, it’s not hard to guess why they’re not around. She spends her time spying on her neighbors to the point of clairvoyance. (Apparently, looking out the window allows her to know exact details of everything.) Her long-suffering tenant tries to break her from her self-destructive routines involving pills and alcohol in copious amounts to no avail.
One day, Fox makes friends with Jane Russell (Moore). Though obviously troubled and more than a little unhinged, Fox sees no problems in quickly bonding with the odd stranger. Soon afterward, she witnesses Russell amid a fight in her home across the street. Someone stabs her, and she dies. But upon calling the police, Fox quickly finds herself questioning reality as the Russell family all arrive at her door, including Jane, alive and well. Only Jane is an entirely different person who claims to have never met Fox before.
Ham and cheese
You can see where all this goes from here. It’s a plot we’ve seen dozens of times before. Most notably in the far better, though equally trashy COPYCAT, where Sigourney Weaver plays an agoraphobic tormented by an external threat.
Said trashiness wouldn’t be an issue if the acting were enjoyable, but everyone performs like they’re doing early rehearsals for a stageplay. Adams overplays every emotion, like each scene was the climax of the film. Oldman is all over the place, never nailing down an accent, inflection, or even tone for his part. He roars in from stage left, shouting his lines as fast as he can, before disappearing for huge stretches at a time. Julianne Moore mugs her way through a short and uninteresting cameo.
Even worse is relative newcomer Fred Hechinger as Ethan, the son of the Russell family. It’s a part that requires nuance and eloquence, as Ethan is mentally troubled and traumatized by his past. Instead, Hechinger turns the role into a shameless mugging, peering from underneath his eyebrows and tilting his head like a cheap vaudevillian villain.
Now, it’s arguable that a trashy, melodramatic presentation of the material could work as well. But there’s no coherence to Wright’s direction or script. WOMAN goes from a 90s programmer, the kind that used to go direct to video, to exploitation, and even Oscar-bait within minutes. Adams gets the spotlight here, and it’s clear she and Wright want this to be a showreel-worthy presentation. But it’s all so misjudged, so thoroughly uninteresting, it comes off as desperate.
Better to forget
Then there’s the implication that any traumatized individual, specifically a hysteric woman, only needs additional trauma to pull themselves together again. It’s an ugly, vindictive trope you’d hope would have vanished by now, but WOMAN IN THE WINDOW practically bathes in it. It lingers on the hopelessness and ineffectuality of telling the truth while nobody will believe you, which would be a powerful film without the added nonsense.
But WOMAN trips over itself due to a contrived and convoluted script that could quickly solve itself if anyone in the film behaved like an actual human. Every hurdle is blindingly obvious, and every time Adams needs to convince someone requires her to lose the ability to speak or make sense at the exact right moment. It’s another example of using disabilities as a cheap crutch for narrative purposes, and it’s as insulting as it is lazy.
THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW sat on the shelf for nearly three years before release. Initially produced under the Fox 2000 banner before shuttering, it bounced from studio to studio before Netflix picked it up as a summer release. Frankly, it feels like one of those films everyone must have been happy to forget. I certainly will.