The phrase “nobody sets out to make a bad movie” is an oft-repeated adage in the film industry, and like all cliches, it’s not without a grain of truth. Of course it’s nobody’s end goal to make unwatchable garbage. It’s also true, however, that bad movies (not just inoffensive or dull movies, but true train wrecks) exist, despite the best intentions of everyone involved–or, sometimes, because of them. So, I’ll start this review of The Woman in the Window with a little generosity, because sometimes this stuff just happens.
Unfortunately, none of it changes the fact that The Woman in the Window is a mess, and appears to have been so from the start. Joe Wright’s film is adapted from a 2018 novel of the same name by A.J. Finn, real name Dan Mallory. A 2019 New Yorker article revealed Mallory to be a compulsive liar and possible plagiarist. That July, The Woman in the Window went into reshoots following negative test screenings, overseen by producer Scott Rudin, also a recent source of major scandal. The pandemic further delayed the release, with Netflix finally acquiring the film from Fox, which is how it’s finally hitting screens.
Context is helpful in this regard, because The Woman in the Window feels like it was assembled by committee. There are obvious Hitchcock references (the plot is a remixed, female-led Rear Window mixed with Psycho) paired with visual detours into giallo territory that clash with the established tone. Everything culminates in a series of overly complicated yet strangely predictable reveals that make for a head-spinning and unsatisfying experience.
Anna Fox (Amy Adams) is our introduction into this world of voyeuristic disappointment. She’s an agoraphobic child psychologist with trauma most viewers will figure out within the first minute. Anna has new neighbors: a family consisting of shy teenage son Ethan (Fred Hechinger), friendly wife Jane (Julianne Moore), and frosty patriarch Alistair (Gary Oldman). After Anna sees Jane murdered, presumably by Alistair, she calls the cops only to find that the Jane she met supposedly never existed, and is instead a woman (Jennifer Jason Leigh) she’s never seen before. Anna’s tenant David (Wyatt Russell) appears to know more about what’s happening than he’s sharing, going from affable to shady and volatile seemingly overnight.
The Woman in the Window does deviate somewhat from Rear Window, and is thankfully self-aware. But the turn the plot takes, while not impossible to deduce, involves unnecessary complications that make the whole thing feel overly melodramatic. Anna’s deteriorating mental state muddies things even further. The film takes a weirdly long time to finally reveal the truth about her life, considering how easy it is to figure out. It would be better served as exposition to contextualize Anna’s behavior rather than as a full subplot that requires its own climax.
There are hints that The Woman in the Window could have been a piece of dark pop art under the right circumstances. Instead, whether through studio meddling, a bad foundation, or a combination of both, the movie is a frantic patchwork populated by unlikable characters. It’s clear throughout that real effort was put forth from everyone involved, but it seems the ultimate goals of those efforts, and the folks making them, are at loggerheads.
“The Woman in the Window” streams Friday on Netflix.