The Woman in the Window
(SPOILERS) Disney clearly felt The Woman in the Window was so dumpster-bound that they let Netflix snatch it up… where it doesn’t scrub up too badly compared to their standard fare. It seems Tony Gilroy – who must really be making himself unpopular in the filmmaking fraternity, as producers’ favourite fix-it guy - was brought in to write reshoots after Joe Wright’s initial cut went down like a bag of cold, or confused, sick in test screenings. It’s questionable how much he changed, unless Tracy Letts’ adaptation of AJ Finn’s 2018 novel diverged significantly from the source material. Because, as these things go, the final movie sticks fairly closely to the novel’s plot.
Usually, when a thriller requires retooling, it’s to muddle up the perpetrator’s identity or add more action. You can find this kind of thing going on as far back as Hitchcock’s Suspicion. Here, however, making the murderer the same character as in the book isn’t doing The Woman in the Window any favours. Amy Adams’ agoraphobic psychologist (yes, that’s right) Anna Fox sees what she thinks is the murder of new neighbour Jane (Julianne Moore) in the house across the street. Turns out Jane is actually Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Moore (Katie) is the biological mother of Jane’s stepson Ethan (Fred Hechinger) and ex of dad/husband Alistair (Gary Oldman). Oh, and that Ethan is a budding psycho killer whose activities are covered for by understanding parents.
The trailer made The Woman in the Window look as if events might be a fiendish plot on the parts of Alistair and Jane to mess with Anna’s head, so it was probably inevitable that the explanation would be something more mundane and generic – in the vein of late-80s to mid-90s “psychological” thrillers, often also featuring female protagonists (The Silence of the Lambs, Sleeping with the Enemy, Copycat, Sliver, The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, Pacific Heights, Single White Female, Kiss the Girls). Wright emphasises such inter-referentiality, only with a succession of clips of way earlier and classier movies (Laura, Spellbound, Dark Passage, Rear Window). And of course, there’s inter-referentiality, and there’s being derivative. One of the typical signifiers of derivative entries is an entirely underwhelming antagonist. I’m not suggesting either Wyatt Russell or Oldman would have been the solution to this, but they’re at least vaguely dangerous and giving it some welly; Hechinger’s simply faux-creepy and pathetic.
The Woman in the Window’s also pulling other clichés in its wake as it progresses, such that Anna is an addled unreliable heroine, tanked up on booze and pills and hallucinating conversations with her deceased husband and daughter (Anthony Mackie and Mariah Bozeman). She’s got (white?) guilt, you see, having crashed the car that killed them. There’s a cumulative feeling, what with this, Hillbilly Elegy and Sharp Objects, that Adams is on a roll of intoxicated roles, which was growing old fast at least a movie ago. It would seem Gone Girl kick started this retro-thriller trend, while The Girl on the Train, also with a substance-abusing inebriate as a lead, trod very similar terrain.
One might assume Wright knew this, hence his relentless over direction, but that’s simply a symptom of his over direction of movies generally. If you haven’t seen his Anna Karenina, you might not have been overly conscious of his predilection for pretentiousness in the unsubtlest of ways (hence Anna’s recall of the loss of her family, via walking over to the fatefully crashed, upturned car that suddenly materialises in the snowy adjacent room of her apartment). It’s said audience reactions to The Woman in the Window were no more positive once the reshoots were done (ordered by recent persona non grata Scott Rudin); it may be that changes led to a divvying up of the information establishing the true identity of Julianne Moore’s character between Fred and Wyatt Russell’s tenant; in the book, Fred admits to Katie’s identity, and also that he injured Anna’s cat (he’s been lurking around her house). Although, as a budding serial killer, he surely would have had no compunction in killing it.
Since none of the twists are very original, you’re left looking elsewhere for sustenance. Adams is doing nothing new here, solid as she is at that (going frump). Most of the rest have too little screen time to shine. Russell plays on his fall-back disreputable quality. Moore is good at bringing insincere sincerity. Oldman SHOUTS a lot. Jason Leigh barely registers, aside from sporting a crap blonde wig (if anything were going to save this, it would have been delving more into the motivation of the parents, but their roles are little more than glorified cameos). Brian Tyree Henry is the sympathetic cop, while Jeanine Serralles is the absurdly unsympathetic one.
Letts is in the movie (as Doctor Landy) and previously adapted his plays Bugs, Killer Joe and August: Osage County for the screen. He doesn’t have much excuse for deriding this experience, since he volunteered for it in the first place. A movie based on Finn himself, aka alleged serial liar and plagiarist (Copycat and novel Saving April have been cited) Daniel Mallory, might have been a more rewarding endeavour than this one. If one were generous, one might find in The Woman in the Window allusions to the limits of one’s perception of the world when locked down in one’s abode and reliant on information that may be mistaken or misshapen. But that would be very generous.