While the premise might remind viewers of Alfred Hitchcock’s seminal Rear Window, the sheer insanity of much in The Woman in the Window more closely resembles Vertigo. The unreliable narrator has gotten a lot of play lately with Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train to various levels of success. Gone Girl astounded audiences and the latter, well, wasn’t nearly as spellbinding. The Woman in the Window falls squarely in between both films for how successfully it pulls the rug out from under you. Unconcerned with the plausibility of events, the film knows well enough to entertain in the pulpiest way possible.
Agoraphobia is particularly relatable after spending the last 15 months in full-on pandemic mode, but Anna Fox (Amy Adams) takes it to another level. Officially diagnosed, Anna breaks out in hives as soon as she steps past her welcome mat. So to pass the time she drinks, watches old films, and chats with friends on the Agora online forum. But then new neighbours move in across the way and Anna begins spies on them for entertainment. There’s Ethan (Fred Hechinger), a quiet teenager; Alistair (Gary Oldman), the domineering father; and the rather friendly Jane (Julianne Moore). It’s not until Anna develops a friendship with Jane that she starts to come out of her shell. A few wine-infused sessions later and Anna has a frame of reference to get healthy again. Unbeknownst to Anna, Jane is also using these hangouts to escape from the highly controlling Alistair.
Of course, with this being a lurid thriller, the fun can’t go on forever, and one night, a relaxing bath turns into a voyeuristic display of brutal murder. Bathed in moonlight, Anna watches Jane get stabbed to death and promptly calls the police. Much to Anna’s consternation, Detective Little (Brian Tyree Hill) comes to investigate and brings over Alistair and Jane, now looking remarkably like Jennifer Jason Leigh. After a brief line of questioning that results in confusion and a few revelations, Anna looks like a crank. Dr. Landy, played by Tracy Letts, who also adapted the script, is equally dismissive, suggesting that the side effects of her prescription are likely to blame. Even Jane’s son, Ethan, refuses to believe that Anna met his mother. Given Anna frequently passes out on her couch with half-empty bottles of booze, it’s not hard to see things their way.
Is Anna losing her mind? Between the meds, the alcohol, and the flights of fancy, the audience wonders if they can believe what they’re seeing. In refusing to leave her home, she opens herself to being manipulated. Is anyone who walks into Anna’s brownstone actually who they say they are? With no one officially murdered and “Jane” across the street, who is playing these cat and mouse games? A high-profile supporting cast headlined by Moore, Oldman, Anthony Mackie, Brian Tyree Hill, and Jennifer Jason Leigh perform admirably. The tone isn’t naturalistic, but it does lean toward the grandiose. Everyone is a suspect to Anna and the ensemble’s mugging keeps the audience guessing.
Director Joe Wright takes the bones of the adaptation, much like he did with Anna Karenina, and dresses it up with sumptuous production design and cinematography, helmed by Bruno Delbonnel (Inside Llewyn Davis). However convoluted or contrived the film’s plot gets, Wright makes sure the visuals are captivating, leaning into Anna’s hallucinations for striking imagery. Wright goes a little further into establishing Anna’s instability by blending moments from Laura and Rear Window into her life.
Credit where credit is due, Amy Adams completely commits to her role as Anna Fox. The film doesn’t reach her heights, though it offers more of a vehicle for her talents than Hillbilly Elegy. The rest of the cast ham it up more than Adams, but they can’t wrest the spotlight away. Wyatt Russell, in particular, gets to have some fun as the shadowy tenant who could know more than he says. Anna is very much a frustrating protagonist, but Adams never lets lazy reductions enter her performance. Through the trauma, anger, bewilderment, and fear, she keeps the audience riveted for as long as she’s onscreen.
The Woman in the Window is one of those rare examples where the trailer doesn’t spoil the entire film. Not for trying, though. It’s just that there are so many swerves involved that no trailer could possibly give it all away. And A.J. Finn’s source material gives plenty of fodder to the third act. The lengthy delay of the film’s release had a lot to do with COVID, but the reshoots definitely played a part. What works well in a New York Times best-seller doesn’t always translate to the big screen, and Woman in the Window falters in that regard. But if you’re game for a reliably excellent Amy Adams and some narrative hijinks, then Netflix has your number.
The Woman in the Window is available to stream now.