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When a film’s test screenings are described as “poor” to the point that said movie is delayed 7 months to accommodate for rewrites, reshoots, and new editing, that’s a big, bright red flag. What’s worse is that The Woman in the Window was originally a Fox film and now a Disney film by proxy, and said movie was so messy in its final production that Disney decided not to have it on their popular streaming service Disney+ that just expanded its library with Star (Fox properties) and instead sold it to Netflix.
That’s a move showing nothing but an attempt to get a film out in the world, wash their hands of it, and bury it in the eternal content libraries of Netflix, completely forgotten about in a week’s time.
Now that’s its been a week since the Netflix release, let’s talk about The Woman in the Window.
The film is directed by Joe Wright (Atonement, Anna Karenina, Darkest Hour), written by Tracy Letts (Bug, Killer Joe, August: Osage County), and adapts A.J. Finn’s 2018 novel of the same name. Amy Adams stars as psychiatrist Anna Fox who is agoraphobic and confines herself in the safety of her massive New York brownstone townhouse. She makes daily phone calls to her ex-husband and daughter, has a tenant living in her basement, and keeps tabs on her neighbours. After hearing shouting across the street and running into the family members one-by-one, her suspicions are raised and she spies on their open windows, leading to a downward spiral of murder, deception and questioning her reality.
From the very title and as soon as The Woman in the Window begins, you brace yourself for what looks and feels like a pointless modern-day rip-off of Rear Window. After the opening shot of snow falling down mysteriously, the very next frame is a TV paused on a scene from the 1954 Hitchcock classic. Subtle.
To the movie’s credit however, it’s not blatantly trying to be a faux-remake of a classic film like Disturbia was in 2006. What the movie ultimately becomes is something far dumber and unfortunate.
As Anna Fox’ investigation from afar deepens, her world around her crumbles to the point that through substance abuse and intervention from others, she starts to question everything she might have seen. The movie jerks suddenly from a straight-up whodunnit thriller to a half-baked look at mental health and addiction.
It then pulls out some of the laziest attempts at keeping you engaged, brings the murder stuff roaring back for a ludicrously over-the-top finale, and ends on such a flat note of nothing that you wonder why you ever bothered to sit down and watch any of this.
Joe Wright has a certain problem as a director, one he has freely admitted to, saying he just likes “showing off”. His movies for the most part are style well over substance, with a few exceptions. While I’m not a fan of Jane Austen, Wright’s 2005 Pride & Prejudice film is regarded as one of the best Austen adaptations, and I do love Atonement, mainly because of the casting and Christopher Hampton’s screenplay.
And then he made The Soloist, Hanna, Anna Karenina, Pan, and Darkest Hour, all of which have a clear visual style that is quite confronting at times, and a fair few have some solid performances to boot, but none of them are movies you ever want to revisit.
They’re expressions of a director who likes “showing off” with fancy camera tricks employed by tremendous cinematographers, like Seamus McGarvey and Bruno Delbonnel, but one who rarely if ever gives us meaningful substance to justify the style on display.
This problem remains exactly the same if not worse with The Woman in the Window. Bruno Delbonnel returns from Darkest Hour to shoot this film, and does a stellar job, restraining from his usual diffused lighting and desaturated colour timing for a more natural and modern look. There’s some engaging one-point perspective shots, sudden bursts of colour, sequences using split-diopters, and several slow turns into Dutch angles which does enhance the crumbling reality around our main character.
A fair amount of this movie will make the cut for my “Best Shots of 2021” video on YouTube, but while this movie looks quite good, none of it really means anything because we barely care about Amy Adams as Anna Fox. Her character is so broad yet ill-defined; she’s a walking stereotype of the “mentally unhealthy” person, but her spying on others doesn’t seem to fit well with her motivations behind being agoraphobic.
Adams does a good enough job for the given role, but after this and Hillbilly Elegy, she’s putting some deep dents in a stellar resumé of some of the best performances in film and TV.
After about 45 minutes, my Mum and I just resigned ourselves to scrolling through our phones, looking up every so often to remark on a good-looking shot or a sudden appearance by Gary Oldman, Julianne Moore, Brian Tyree Henry, Anthony Mackie, Jennifer Jason Leigh or Wyatt Russell.
This is a stacked cast of excellent actors all given meaningless roles far beneath their respective talents, and the nonsensical twists appearing from thin air help no one. Not the actors or the audience.
By the time the murderer-in-the-house finale was dumped on screen, I gave up with logic or credibility and let the filmmakers do whatever they thought best to just end this as soon as possible. The final fight between Anna and the now-revealed antagonist takes place on the roof of her townhouse, which is an incredibly cheap-set that never once feels like it exists in any real location.
The entire movie takes place inside Anna’s multi-storey house but feels so small and limited, like the production budget was cut in half. To compare, The Father takes place all in one apartment but uses the measures of the story and afflictions of the characters to twist reality before our very eyes. Every trick The Woman in the Window attempts is obvious and rings dreadfully hollow.
This is not a rip-off of Rear Window so much as it is a bland mix-up of Hitchcockian stories and characters with the ridiculous style of Dario Argento, complete with unrealistic lighting and sudden blood effects on screen to wake you up. Unless you’re Brian De Palma, that mash-up just doesn’t work. The Woman in the Window was put into production before the book was ever released, and by all accounts is a more coherent story and portrayal of characters than what is in the source material. It begs the question; why do this movie in the first place?
Did someone honestly believe this by-the-numbers story was worth a big (or now small) screen treatment? What really called out to Joe Wright or Tracy Letts, or any of the incredible cast for that matter? The Woman in the Window tries to deliver visual panache with a subversive plot, but this thriller just simply forgets to be…you know…thrilling.
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