‘Seeing is believing’
The Woman in the Window is a 2021 American thriller film about an agoraphobic woman in New York who suspects her new neighbour of murder.
Directed by Joe Wright from a screenplay written by Tracy Letts, based on the novel of the same name by A.J. Finn, the movie stars Amy Adams, Anthony Mackie, Fred Hechinger, Gary Oldman, Wyatt Russell, Brian Tyree Henry, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Julianne Moore.
When the Russell family moves into the house across the way, they appear to be the perfect family. But when Anna, gazing out her window one night, sees something she shouldn’t, her world begins to crumble and shocking secrets are laid bare.
Forced to prove what she saw actually happened, everyone begins to question if what occurred was real or imagined. Is it paranoia or did it happen?
Joe Wright’s The Woman in the Window is a film that was kicked around a bit before it was eventually released.
Based on the best-selling novel by A.J. Finn, The Woman in the Window was filmed in 2018 and was originally set to be released in October of 2019. At the time, there were many who predicted that this would be the film for which Amy Adams would finally win an Oscar. However, after a few poor test screenings, the release of The Woman in the Window was pushed back. The film’s producer, the now-infamous Scott Rudin, reportedly brought in Tony Gilory to re-shoot a few scenes. The film was finally set to be released in May of 2020 and, needless to say, it was no longer expected to be an Oscar contender. Then, the pandemic hit and, like so many movies, The Woman in the Window was left in limbo. With its theatrical release cancelled, the film was eventually purchased by Netflix. Netflix finally released it in May of this year. With all of the delays and the bad buzz, the critics had plenty of time to sharpen their knives and I don’t think anyone was surprised when the film got scathing reviews.
Though the film was completed long before the lockdowns, The Woman in the Window does feel like a COVID thriller. Anna Fox (played by Amy Adams) is a child psychologist who is afraid to leave her Manhattan brownstone. She has agoraphobia, the result of personal trauma. She’s not only scared to leave the safety of her apartment but she’s also terrified of anyone else getting inside. She spends her days spying on the neighbours, drinking wine, and watching old movies. Of course, that’s also what many people in the real world spent most of the past year doing. As I watched Anna freak out over some trick or treaters throwing eggs at her door, I was reminded of my neighbour who, a few months ago, nearly had a panic attack because she saw someone walking past her house without a mask. One could argue that the world itself has become agoraphobic.
Despite her housebound status, Anna does still have a few contacts with the outside world. For instance, a psychiatrist (played by Tracy Letts, who also wrote the script) comes by every weekend. She has a tenant named David (Wyatt Russell) who lives in her basement. She regularly has conversations with her husband and her daughter, who she says are both living in another state. And eventually, she meets Ethan (Fred Hechinger), the fifteen-year-old who has just moved in across the street. When Anna thinks that she’s witnessed Ethan’s father (Gary Oldman) murdering his mother (Julianne Moore), Anna calls the cops. However, when a totally different woman (Jennifer Jason Leigh) shows up and claims to be Ethan’s mother, Anna is forced to try to solve the mystery herself.
The Woman in the Window is a disjointed and rather messy film but I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t enjoy it. The novel (which I also greatly enjoyed) was told entirely from Anna’s point of view, which means that we saw everything through the eyes of a sometimes unreliable narrator. The novel did such a good job of putting us inside of Anna’s head that it didn’t matter that the story itself was full of improbable coincidences.
Director Joe Wright tries to recreate the novel’s uneasiness through garish lighting, crooked camera angles, and abrupt jump cuts. Sometimes, it’s effective (as when Anna tries to leave her apartment in the rain, just to pass out after having a panic attack) and other times, the technique feels a bit too obvious. And then there are other scenes — like when Anna suddenly sees an overturned car in the middle of her living room — where it becomes brilliantly bizarre. It’s in those scenes, in which the film carefully balances on the line between the surreal and the silly, that Wright seems to be most comfortable as a director. Much as he did with Anna Karenina, Wright fills The Woman in the Window with scenes that suggest that, on some level, the characters are aware that they’re just characters in a B-melodrama.
Indeed, despite being directed by a great filmmaker and featuring a cast of award-winning actors, The Woman in the Window is a B-movie and, when taken on those terms, it’s an entertaining melodrama. Interestingly enough, it actually helps that almost everyone in the film has either been miscast or is too obvious a choice for their role. Gary Oldman is such an on-the-nose choice to play a tyrannical authority figure that it actually makes sense that a film buff like Anna would automatically assume the worst about him. Julianne Moore has even less screen time than Oldman but she makes the most of it, playing yet another one of her talkative characters who doesn’t appear to have the ability to filter her thoughts. It’s the type of role that Moore specializes in and one that she could probably play in her sleep but she and Adams establish a good rapport and the scene that they share is one of the best in the film. Speaking of which, Amy Adams is so incredibly miscast as Anna that you actually find yourself rooting for her to somehow bring the character to life. Amy Adams is one of the few performers who can make being cheerful compelling so it seems like a bit of a waste to cast her as a self-destructive agoraphobe who can’t leave her apartment And yet, much as in Hillbilly Elegy where she was similarly miscast, Adams seems to be trying so hard to make her casting work that you appreciate the effort, even if she doesn’t quite succeed. She’s just so likeable that you sympathise with her, even if she isn’t quite right for the role.
As a film, The Woman in the Window shares the book’s flaws. The plot is a bit too heavy on coincidences and we’re asked to believe that Anna, who can’t leave her house without having a panic attack and who is terrified of someone getting into her house without her knowledge, would also invite Ethan to visit her and allow David to live in her basement. As well, it’s hard to watch the movie without wondering which scenes were reshot by Tony Gilroy. (The final scene especially feels out-of-place with what came before it, leading me to suspect that it may have been added in response to those negative test screenings.) Yet, while the film’s defects are obvious, I still enjoyed it. It may be flawed but it’s hardly the disaster that some have made it out to be.
“The set-up presented by Letts is tempting, and Wright releases some wiggles with more excitable cinematography as panic sets in. It’s the resolution of the story that’s hugely disappointing, with the screenplay following Finn’s plotting, which may have worked on the page, but comes off as semi-ludicrous in the feature, though a little extreme violence in the final act does have some wonderful shock value.” Blu-ray.com
“Personally, I think the movie is worth watching for the actors and the interesting plot. You’ll probably guess many plot twists before they’re revealed, but it doesn’t take anything away from the eerie and creepy style that works from beginning to end.” Heaven of Horror
“Only Julianne Moore in a brief role impresses. Her character is so tricky and convincing that you actually feel something more is left for us to understand. The foreshadowing that Wright brings to The Woman in the Window is truly unimpressive. With pedestrian turns – including a B-movie cop-out, fail to uplift this substandard material to anything particularly interesting.” High on Film
” …Wright pivots into full-blown slasher movie territory, with an over-the-top climax that registers as more goofy than gratifying. Had the entirety of The Woman in the Window leaned more toward camp, the final 15 minutes might have actually worked, but the self-serious nature of the film only makes the ending that much more flummoxing.” The Lamplight Review
“It’s a game of cat and mouse without the mouse, and by the time all the dominoes land in place, The Woman in the Window has dug itself into a void that’ll have viewers asking why they chose to press play in the first place. Nothing is shocking or revelatory and cramming exactly 19 characters into one 100-minute package equipped with a few nifty callbacks to Rear Window isn’t anyone’s ideal Saturday night.” The Only Critic
“Ultimately, The Woman in the Window offers a lot of build-up, a lot of possibility. But the revelation of what’s truly going on here is anticlimactic—the equivalent of closing the curtains and turning away from the window with a disappointed sigh.” RogerEbert.com
“While there are some enjoyable moments and the actors are trying hard (and at least seem to enjoy working together), The Woman in the Window ends up something like a meal that you pick at a bit, but you end up hungry an hour later. While there’s nothing inherently wrong for opting for style over substance, when even the style lacks a certain depth, it ends up little more than a reasonably packaged, empty shell.” Screen Anarchy
“The Woman in the Window is so silly and broad that it begins to border on camp, and I have a feeling this could become the type of cheesy dreck that people get a hoot out of if they follow Anna’s lead and down one or two or ten bottles of wine. By the time the film climaxes with multiple predictable but utterly preposterous twists, you’ll probably be reaching for a bottle yourself.” Slash Film
The Woman in the Window was originally scheduled to be released on October 4, 2019, by 20th Century Fox, but on July 9, 2019, it was delayed to 2020 as Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures re-edited the film after test screenings. It was scheduled to be released on May 15, 2020.
On March 17, 2020, the film was removed from the release calendar due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with an intent to reschedule it later in 2020.
On August 3, 2020, it was announced Netflix was in final talks to acquire the distribution rights to the film from 20th Century Studios. The film will be streamed on Nextflix on May 14th 2021.
Cast and characters:
Amy Adams … Anna Fox
Anthony Mackie … Ed Fox
Fred Hechinger … Ethan
Wyatt Russell … David
Gary Oldman … Alistair Russell
Brian Tyree Henry … Little
Julianne Moore … Jane
Jeanine Serralles … Norelli
Mariah Bozeman … Olivia
Liza Colón-Zayas … Bina
Anna Cameron … Alex
Ben Davis … Steve (voice)
Rand Guerrero … McNamara
Amanda Rabinowitz … Friend
Jennifer Jason Leigh … Jane Russell
Aspect ratio: 2.39: 1
Principal photography began on August 6, 2018, in New York City. Filming wrapped on October 30, 2018. Test screenings revealed a negative audience reaction to the finale so reshoots were undertaken for a planned 2019 release.
Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) were originally hired to score the film. After the film’s release was delayed and the film went back into production, it was announced that they had been replaced by Danny Elfman.
MOVIES and MANIA comment and rating:
[May contain spoilers] The Woman in the Window begins as a self-aware take on Rear Window and the decent cast seem to be having a ball. Then, around the hour mark, the film descends into contrivances and silliness that turn it into a camp fest. But it’s a stylish camp fest and devotees of overwrought cinema might enjoy the mayhem that ensues. Well, until a somewhat flat ending.