Evaluation: Even with Amy Adams, Netflix’s ‘Woman in the Window’ is a psychological non-thriller
“The Woman in the Window, ” an overstuffed, floridly preposterous psycho-thriller starring Amy Adams, is the kind of film that would love to be referred to as Hitchcockian. But the resemblances are usually cosmetic at best; really, a better term might be “Hitchcocky, ” which comes closer to recording its brand of swaggering, self conscious homage. A meticulously controlled frenzy of a movie, it’s less interested in reproducing Hitch’s mastery of suspense within repurposing his most famous twists and tropes, pelting a person with strenuously clever parallels to “Vertigo, ” “Psycho” and the like — and that is not even mentioning the lodger, the vanishing lady or one hell of a loved ones plot.
Busily directed by Joe Wright and adapted from the controversy-stirring 2018 bestseller (more in that later), “The Woman in the Window” is most obviously indebted to “Rear Window, ” cheekily bringing up-to-date that Hitchcock classic to have an era of smartphones, intercoms and antidepressants. The shut-in turned amateur sleuth the following is Dr . Anna Fox (Adams), a child psychologist waiting out a severe case of agoraphobia in her multi-story New York brownstone. Anna has a husband (Anthony Mackie) and also a young daughter (Mariah Bozeman) who no longer live with her, though we do hear them on the phone and see them in flashbacks. Just for company she has only the girl cat, Punch; a downstairs room tenant, David (Wyatt Russell); and a therapist who from time to time pops in. (He’s played by Tracy Letts, exactly who also wrote the screenplay. )
With regard to entertainment Anna has a space full of glorious old films that she watches and rewatches obsessively, including “Laura” and “Dark Passage” — two sly meta-warnings towards the audience to be on the lookout for red-colored herrings and mistaken identities. I should note that, as a significant other of vintage Hollywood crime pictures myself, I’m usually sympathetic to any movie that geeks out over all of them too. The danger of giving up a few frames of Lauren Bacall or Gene Tierney into a patently inferior enjoyment, of course , is that the pleasure of seeing their faces might well inspire more resentment than gratitude. It’s never a good idea to risk asking the target audience: Wouldn’t you rather end up being watching something else?
Anna, as it happens, is soon distracted by alternate entertainment sources of her own. An infinitely more dangerous kind of thriller begins playing out in the house across the street, where the Russells, a family of three, have just relocated in. The first Russell the girl meets is 15-year-old Ethan (Fred Hechinger), who comes over for a visit and provides off awkward-sensitive Norman Bates vibes. Fittingly, his mother (a breezily insinuating Julianne Moore) is the next someone to stop by, and like Ethan, she seems friendly when slightly off at first. There’s something particularly dodgy however revealing about the way the girl describes Ethan’s over-controlling father, Alistair (a belligerent Gary Oldman), as if she had been trying to both confess plus suppress a guilty secret.
That something scary is afoot becomes frighteningly clear when Anna peers out her window a single night and sees a ghastly crime being dedicated in the Russells’ home. Yet is she really seeing what she thinks she is? The particular abundance of unsubtle off-her-rocker imagery — which includes a photo of her peering intently through the slats of an real rocking chair — indicates otherwise. Once Anna shouts bloody murder and the police show up (Brian Tyree Henry plays a friendly detective), their particular toughest questions are guided not at Alistair, but rather at Anna’s increasingly tenuous grip on reality. This particular surprises Anna but will certainly surprise no one else, given her general dishevelment, more and more rattled air and escalating habit of mixing wine with prescription meds.
Like the female protagonists of “Gone Girl” and “The Girl on the Train, ” two earlier in the day thrillers that also made the leap from page to screen, Anna is really a classic unreliable narrator. She might also be an unwitting (and more sympathetic) stand-in for her scandal-ridden creator, Dan Mallory, who wrote “The Woman in the Window” under the pseudonym A. J. Finn and whose history of lies about his life and career was brought to light in early 2019. That’s a lot of baggage to saddle any movie with, even one that’s been sitting around provided that this one, which was delayed first for reshoots and again by the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the circumstances, the postponements may have been a blessing. If you find yourself thinking about tortured literary controversies during “The Woman in the Window, ” it can only be because they’re rather more interesting than the movie itself.
Really, the most interesting thing here may be the marshaling of so many smart people in service of a misfire that probably seemed like an intuitive showcase for their talents. In the scripts he’s adapted from his own turns (“Bug, ” “Killer Joe”), Letts has demonstrated the facility for staging physical breakdowns in close groups. And Wright, in his genuinely previous literary adaptations — including “Atonement, ” talking about unreliable narrators — holds proven admirably willing to sweet the camera as an still active participant in the telling, making use of the formal resources of movie house to liberate his posts as much as possible from the printed examined. It hasn’t always done jobs, but the results have never close to dull.
To this date. In “The Woman from inside the Window” the director makes an attempt — oh, how or even tries — to mimic the boozy, bleary-eyed connection with Anna’s day-to-day. There are “Vertigo”-style winding staircases, extreme close-ups of Anna’s eyes gulping down open (echoing the Salvador Dali dream sequence manufactured by Hitchcock’s “Spellbound”) and a relentless Danny Elfman score when, when it’s not humping Bernard Herrmann’s grave, seems to be channelizing the singsong voices all the way through Anna’s head. The most exceptional aspect of the production may be Anna’s ramshackle house itself, whoever dimly lit, sparsely furnished room become a sort of artificial playground for Bruno Delbonnel’s stanza da letto to wander. Here, like for example Wright’s vividly stylized “Anna Karenina, ” the blatantly theatrical staging and deep-focus widescreen images create a Brechtian detachment, as if you can suggest that Anna (Fox actually Karenina) is caught up active in the theater of her reality.
That’s a substantial intriguing conceit. It also maintains an effect of draining any true suspense or tension against the material and keeping Anna’s demons entirely on the surface. This is a shame, given the best way effortlessly deep Adams should go when left to her really devices. Having already competed an intrepid crime solver staring down alcoholism and private trauma in the 2018 mini series “Sharp Goods, ” Adams tries, as always, to make brilliant choices, to underplay its intensity and avoid the obvious. Mother works against the freneticism of that filmmaking, emphasizing Anna’s moments of groundedness and lucidity as well as the instinctive empathy associated with likely made her a beneficial psychologist to begin with. By proper rights she should be the centerpiece the great and genuinely Hitchcockian thriller. This one is for an birds.
‘The Woman active in the Window’
Rated: R, for violence of any kind and language
Running time: 1 hour, 40 short minutes
Actively: Available Will possibly 14 on Netflix