Neither as good as the makers hoped, nor as bad as the reputational stink created by a belated release, Joe Wright’s The Woman in the Window finally arrives on Netflix like rubbish coming down the chute. Producer Scott Rudin has been undergoing a trial by social media, there have been clear issues in adapting AJ Finn’s bestseller in the Gone Girl/Girl On A Train genre, and while the final product is intriguing, it falls somewhat short of the Hitchcockian ideals the creative forces are aiming for.
Amy Adams toplines as Dr Anna Fox, who still talks to the dead husband and child she lost in a car accident. Anna now lives in a cavernous New York brownstone but has developed an understandable fear of going outside. When she’s not re-watching Rear Window and Spellbound, both of which are featured in clips, Anna is developing an unhealthy interest in her neighbours across the street, the Russell family. Is high-powered finance-whizz Alistair Russell (Gary Oldman) all he’s cracked up to be? What secret is Alistair’s son hiding? And who is the mysterious woman (Julianne Moore) who visits Anna after she’s pelted with eggs by Halloween-celebrating kids? A mix of prescription drugs and wine won’t help Anna sort it out as her view on things is continually questioned by cops investigating what Anna thinks is a murder….
Of course, we’ve been down this road many times before, notably the 1995 thriller Copycat which revolves around a similarly agoraphobic heroine hiding from a serial killer. There are mental health issues touched on here, but they come second to delivering the large slabs of exposition required to turn the plot around. Writer Tracy Letts, who also has an extended cameo, doesn’t seem to have responded well to the thematic strength of the venerable clichés involved; Anna is like a Hitchcockian heroine, but ends up just standing there while various characters explain themselves. Oldman seems to be there as a favour to Wright or Netflix, while Wyatt Russell makes more than is required in a thankless role as Anna’s lodger, who patiently explains various plot-points in a way that makes The Woman in the Window feel like an inconclusive script meeting.
One of the last of the 20th Century Fox films in development when Disney took over, The Woman in the Window is a reasonable time-passer by dint of an over-qualified cast and a tried-and-tested story. But just about passing muster as a tv movie can’t be what this kind of talent envisaged; like Anna, the viewer may feel they’ve been gas-lit by the whole enterprise. It would seem impossible to make a film about being afraid to leave your house, and release it in the middle of a pandemic, and not hit any seams of metaphorical interest, but somehow The Women in the Window manages it. There’s nothing to do here but spot the killer, and there’s not even much choice; like the reputation of the novel that it’s taken from, Wright’s thriller seems like a rather busted flush.