What could have paid tribute to the Hitchcock classic, Rear Window, is instead messy, disjointed, a little dull, and ultimately a letdown to the voyeur-genre film.
For as anticipated a release as this was, pushed back several times due to the pandemic, The Woman in the Window was pretty underwhelming and ineffective. If you’re looking for a Friday night popcorn movie, it’s not a waste of time, but because there are significant departures from its source material (the novel by A.J. Finn aka Dan Mallory), it really doesn’t work as well as a film. Perhaps it’s just a matter of execution, but for a real page-turner of a book, the film lacks the same energy.
Listening to the audiobook was a treat and actually prompted me to imagine a film version in my head. I was engaged throughout, heart racing for Anna Fox and the convoluted mystery before her. The movie adaptation, however, gives us shot after tired shot of Amy Adams looking scared and acting confused while pacing around her enormous and depressing Brooklyn apartment with her zoom-lens camera. There’s certainly tension, but instead of dynamic, it feels repetitive.
Because of her severe agoraphobia, which we learn more about as the film progresses, she is essentially a shut-in and spends much of her time peering out of her windows, observing the outside world through the lives of her neighbors. This seems normal enough given her situation, except that she’s not entirely in touch with reality due to a fairly consistent stream of wine and pills coursing through her bloodstream. Not only is she on doctor-prescribed medication for her condition, but she’s also a pretty severe alcoholic, and she doesn’t appear to have any issue mixing the two substances and passing out on a regular basis. Enter: the unreliable narrator trope.
One day she meets the son of the family that’s just moved in across the street, Ethan Russell when he comes over with a gift for her from his mother Jane. Soon thereafter, she meets Jane—played by a bizarre-mannered Julianne Moore—and they seem to hit it off. A while later to her horror, Anna sees Jane being brutally murdered by her husband, Alistair (Gary Oldman), from across the street.
She frantically calls the police to report the crime, but she’s completely panicked, to the point of incoherence. She doesn’t exactly give off an impression of sanity, and the detectives that arrive are less than impressed with her account of things when they come over to question her story in person. Thus the question becomes, did she actually witness a murder, or is she having hallucinations brought on by trauma and substance abuse?
To further invalidate her credibility, Jane comes over to Anna’s house with Alistair Russell, proving he didn’t kill her, but it’s not the Jane that Anna met before. It’s a completely different woman, one she’s never seen. Vehement about the fact that she witnessed Jane’s murder and shocked to see another woman standing in front of her claiming to be her, Anna loses it. She hysterically insists this is not Jane, pleading for validation from Ethan—which he doesn’t provide—and this fit further demonstrates just how unstable and potentially delusional she is to everyone in the room.
Alright. Now if you’re thinking, “I thought you said this was a lackluster film, and this actually sounds pretty compelling…” you’d be right. It sounds compelling. This, in my opinion, was why the book was such a page-turner. The film version, however, just doesn’t hit the same notes, due in part to the fact that a lot from the book is left out. I won’t get into the nitty-gritty details, because honestly, there’s so much to unpack it warrants a second article, but suffice to say, it’s because of these missing pieces that the film version didn’t work for me.
Anna continues to have these hysterical outbursts throughout the film because she’s adamant that Jane was murdered. Then, she begins relentlessly digging into the Russell’s past, to the point of stalking (as much as one can stalk from afar), and she uncovers some fishy details about the family, particularly the father, Allister.
Because she can’t definitively prove anything, however, her frequent, incoherent fits in which she goes running to the police (via the phone) result in her becoming the woman who cried wolf, and when we reach the climax of the story, the killer—the one who’s been fucking with her this entire time because you guessed it, she’s not in fact crazy—is sure that no one will believe her no matter what she says. In fact, they’ve driven her so crazy that she’s planned to kill herself and leave a video behind as a visual suicide note.
The end of the film is the big showdown between the killer and Anna in which they duel to the death on the roof of her building, and it gives us some of the most ridiculous scenes I’ve seen on screen in a long time. The dialogue is trite and predictable, but more than that, the action sequences that follow are fueled with a cocaine-bear level of energy, which felt… insane. I just have to assume that’s what they were going for? In any case, Anna makes it out alive after the trying ordeal and winds up in the hospital, recovering from her injuries.
Without discussing the ending in great length, what I’ll say is this. Overall, this film is just not well executed. It’s got the bones, but it never chooses to do anything with them, and while a few scenes have stuck with me—the scene in the kitchen between Adams and Moore, a flashback sequence where we learn what happened to Anna Fox to cause her mental break (although it’s placement in the film felt completely out of left field), and a scene at the very end between Anna and the lead detective—The Woman in the Window is clunky at best, and ultimately pretty forgettable.
The film doesn’t spend enough time with its supporting characters or building relationships between them and Anna, so when some very dramatic moments occur, they left me feeling jarred, and not much else. The end especially, which is meant to be the big twist/reveal, felt totally abrupt and unearned because the killer character wasn’t even present for much of the third act. So much so, I all but forgot about them. All of a sudden, BOOM, they’re back with a vengeance? Not only did I not buy it, it felt cartoonishly over the top.
We’re asked to blindly accept their motive for wanting to kill Anna, which left me feeling like I was an idiot who hadn’t managed to put any of the pieces together beforehand. Except for there were no discernable pieces to put together give or take a few obscure breadcrumbs, which, kudos to you if you saw what was coming because it was not obvious to me.
If you’re starved for something to watch because you’ve exhausted all of your Netflix pandemic choices, The Woman in the Window is fine, however, if you’re looking for something with actual meat on its bones, consider taking a pass.
The Woman in the Window is streaming now on Netflix.