Netflix’s habit of buying movies from traditional studios – and therefore sparing them from potentially disappointing box office returns – yields both good and bad results for subscribers.
The recent inventive and heartfelt family movie The Mitchells vs the Machines shows what happens when it works out, for example, which was also the case with Aaron Sorkin’s Oscar winner The Trial of the Chicago Seven. On the less successful side, it yields a drab sci-fi offering like The Cloverfield Paradox, or a boring thriller like this weekend’s The Woman in the Window.
Originally filmed back in 2018 and based on a book by AJ Finn, the story essentially amounts to a riff on Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Agoraphobic child psychologist Anna Fox lives in a New York townhouse, separated from her own kids. After Anna bonds with her new neighbor, Jane Russell (Julianne Moore), the wife of a shifty doctor (Gary Oldman), she witnesses her new friend being stabbed in her home.
Or does she? The doctor claims Anna has never actually met his wife, and a different woman (Jennifer Jason Leigh) turns up and says she’s the real Jane Russell. The Russells’ son, Ethan, who Anna also forms a connection with, backs up his father’s version of events. Anna begins to question her own perception of reality, as the cops doubt her story.
Much of this film amounts to Amy Adams, in sweatpants, snooping on her neighbors in a nice-looking apartment. But the movie has none of the tension a (mostly) single-location movie like this really needs – and it piles on big twists and exposition with the energy of a bland paperback thriller. It draws from the likes of Panic Room and Rear Window in terms of style and beats, but lacks any imagination or flavor of its own.
Everyone starring this film is too good for it. Aside from Adams, Oldman and Moore, the ensemble cast features a host of familiar faces like Brian Tyree Henry, Wyatt Russell and Anthony Mackie, which makes you wonder if everyone signed on thinking they were going to make the next Gone Girl; that is, an elevated thriller that subverts some of the hoary tropes you associate with airport crime novels. But this simply does not have the same layers to it in terms of characterization, or careful hand in how it deploys its twists.
In fact, at least twice, people turn up on screen to explain the film’s twists to you.
Following The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, it’s weird seeing the charming Wyatt Russell again being underutilized – this time as Anna’s mysterious basement lodger, David. Oldman, meanwhile, features so little in the film that it feels like his role as a de facto villain was cut down in production. He turns up a few times to insult Anna – calling her a pill-popping cat lady, which is unexpectedly funny – and then leaves again in a huff.
Considering Amy Adams was the star of HBO’s Sharp Objects, one of the best mystery thrillers to ever hit the small screen, this is a vanilla role that’s not worthy of her talent. The film makes the questionable decision to use Anna’s frail mental health (and alcoholism) as a framework for whether we’re meant to believe her version of events or not – this would maybe seem a little more offensive if the film wasn’t so trashy generally.
There’s no crime in riffing on Hitchcock, and The Woman in the Window draws its big twists from the source material, by all accounts. It’s just strange that it manages to boil down a great cast, a proven director and a sizable-enough budget into a film that feels rather straight-to-DVD in the finished product. The plot barely covers 100 minutes, and features an almost-pointless epilogue that kills more time. It’s a bit of an oddity, and even at a time where theatrical releases are still uncertain, it’s not worth adding to your watch list.
The Woman in the Window didn’t do much for us, then. This is exactly the kind of film that’s become under threat as a box office proposition – crime thrillers like The Fugitive ruled the ’90s, and even now, something like Knives Out can break out with the right combination of style, cast and hook. This had everything it needed on the table to succeed, but made none of it work.
The Woman in the Window is available now on Netflix.