Skip to main content

A drunken, sodden, pill-popping cat lady.

The Woman in the Window
(2021)

(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.


Popular posts from this blog

The Illumi-what-i?

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (2022) (SPOILERS) In which Sam Raimi proves that he can stand proudly with the best – or worst – of them as a good little foot soldier of the woke apocalypse. You’d expect the wilfully anarchic – and Republican – Raimi to choke on the woke, but instead, he’s sucked it up, grinned and bore it. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is so slavishly a production-line Marvel movie, both in plotting and character, and in nu-Feige progressive sensibilities, there was no chance of Sam staggering out from beneath its suffocating demands with anything more than a few scraps of stylistic flourish intact.

Ziggy smokes a lot of weed.

Moonfall (2022) (SPOILERS) For a while there, it looked as if Moonfall , the latest and least-welcomed – so it seems – piece of apocalyptic programming from Roland Emmerich, might be sending mixed messages. Fortunately, we need not have feared, as it turns out to be the same pedigree of disaster porn we’ve come to expect from the director, one of the Elite’s most dutiful mass-entertainment stooges, even if his lustre has rather dimmed since the glory days of 2012.

What’s so bad about being small? You’re not going to be small forever.

Innerspace (1987) There’s no doubt that Innerspace is a flawed movie. Joe Dante finds himself pulling in different directions, his instincts for comic subversion tempered by the need to play the romance plot straight. He tacitly acknowledges this on the DVD commentary for the film, where he notes Pauline Kael’s criticism that he was attempting to make a mainstream movie; and he was. But, as ever with Dante, it never quite turns out that way. Whereas his kids’ movies treat their protagonists earnestly, this doesn’t come so naturally with adults. I’m a bona fide devotee of Innerspace , but I can’t help but be conscious of its problems. For the most part Dante papers over the cracks; the movie hits certain keynotes of standard Hollywood prescription scripting. But his sensibility inevitably suffuses it. That, and human cartoon Martin Short (an ideal “leading man” for the director) ensure what is, at first glance just another “ Steven Spielberg Presents ” sci-fi/fantas

All I saw was an old man with a funky hand, that’s all I saw.

The Blob (1988) (SPOILERS) The 1980s effects-laden remake of a ’50s B-movie that couldn’t. That is, couldn’t persuade an audience to see it and couldn’t muster critical acclaim. The Fly was a hit. The Thing wasn’t, but its reputation has since soared. Like Invaders from Mars , no such fate awaited The Blob , despite effects that, in many respects, are comparable in quality to the John Carpenter classic – and are certainly indebted to Rob Bottin for bodily grue – and surehanded direction from Chuck Russell. I suspect the reason is simply this: it lacks that extra layer that would ensure longevity.

Are you telling me that I should take my daughter to a witch doctor?

The Exorcist (1973) (SPOILERS) Vast swathes have been written on The Exorcist , duly reflective of its cultural impact. In a significant respect, it’s the first blockbuster – forget Jaws – and also the first of a new kind of special-effects movie. It provoked controversy across all levels of the socio-political spectrum, for explicit content and religious content, both hailed and denounced for the same. William Friedkin, director of William Peter Blatty’s screenplay based on Blatty’s 1971 novel, would have us believe The Exorcist is “ a film about the mystery of faith ”, but it’s evidently much more – and less – than that. There’s a strong argument to be made that movies having the kind of seismic shock on the landscape this one did aren’t simply designed to provoke rumination (or exultation); they’re there to profoundly influence society, even if largely by osmosis, and when one looks at this picture’s architects, such an assessment only gains in credibility.

That, my lad, was a dragon.

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug (2013) (SPOILERS) It’s alarming how quickly Peter Jackson sabotaged all the goodwill he amassed in the wake of The Lord of the Rings trilogy. A guy who started out directing deliciously deranged homemade horror movies ended up taking home the Oscar for a fantasy movie, of all genres. And then he blew it. He went from a filmmaker whose naysayers were the exception to one whose remaining cheerleaders are considered slightly maladjusted. The Desolation of Smaug recovers some of the territory Jackson has lost over the last decade, but he may be too far-gone to ever regain his crown. Perhaps in years to come The Lord of the Rings trilogy will be seen as an aberration in his filmography. There’s a cartoonishness to the gleeful, twisted anarchy on display in his earlierr work that may be more attuned to the less verimilitudinous aspects of King Kong and The Hobbit s. The exceptions are his female-centric character dramas, Heavenly Creat

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

This risotto is shmackin’, dude.

Stranger Things Season 4: Part I (SPOILERS) I haven’t had cause, or the urge, to revisit earlier seasons of Stranger Things , but I’m fairly certain my (relatively) positive takes on the first two sequel seasons would adjust down somewhat if I did (a Soviet base under Hawkins? DUMB soft disclosure or not, it’s pretty dumb). In my Season Three review, I called the show “ Netflix’s best-packaged junk food. It knows not to outstay its welcome, doesn’t cause bloat and is disposable in mostly good ways ” I fairly certain the Duffer’s weren’t reading, but it’s as if they decided, as a rebuke, that bloat was the only way to go for Season Four. Hence episodes approaching (or exceeding) twice the standard length. So while the other points – that it wouldn’t stray from its cosy identity and seasons tend to merge in the memory – hold fast, you can feel the ambition of an expansive canvas faltering at the hurdle of Stranger Things ’ essential, curated, nostalgia-appeal inconsequentiality.

You keep a horse in the basement?

The ‘Burbs (1989) (SPOILERS) The ‘Burbs is Joe Dante’s masterpiece. Or at least, his masterpiece that isn’t his bite-the-hand-that-feeds-you masterpiece Gremlins 2: The New Batch , or his high profile masterpiece Gremlins . Unlike those two, the latter of which bolted out of the gate and took audiences by surprise with it’s black wit subverting the expected Spielberg melange, and the first which was roundly shunned by viewers and critics for being absolutely nothing like the first and waving that fact gleefully under their noses, The ‘Burbs took a while to gain its foothold in the Dante pantheon.  It came out at a time when there had been a good few movies (not least Dante’s) taking a poke at small town Americana, and it was a Tom Hanks movie when Hanks was still a broad strokes comedy guy ( Big had just made him big, Turner and Hooch was a few months away; you know you’ve really made it when you co-star with a pooch). It’s true to say that some, as with say The Bi

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the