With their thriller “The Woman in the Window,” director Joe Wright and writer Tracy Letts know exactly what they are doing. The references are too overt for them not to- in the opening shots, the camera moves around Anna’s (Amy Adams) sprawling and eerie New York home, moving past a television where a couple of frames from Alfred Hitchcock’s film “Rear Window” flicker on the screen. “Rear Window,” in which a bedridden photography believes he sees his neighbor murder his wife from his window, is the piece of media that most people automatically associate with “The Woman in the Window,” which is based on a book by A.J. Finn. But the resulting film is more an amalgamation of many different references- just look at the three films Anna is seen watching toward the beginning of the movie- 1944’s “Laura,” 1945’s “Spellbound” (another Hitchcock), and 1947’s “Dark Passage,” all thrillers that involve murder, occasional insanity, and characters trying to clear their names and solve a mystery. “The Woman in the Window” relies so heavily on these references that it fails to succeed as its own piece.
The story centers around Anna, a child psychologist who lives alone, with the exception of her basement tenant David (Wyatt Russell). Anna is agoraphobic, which keeps her inside her house, and she is separated from her husband (Anthony Mackie) and their daughter. Anna watches a new family, the Russell’s, move into the house across the street, and she also watches as she believes she sees Alastair Russell (Gary Oldman) kill his wife Jane (Julianne Moore), and abuse his teenage son Ethan (Fred Hechinger). But Anna is not stable, and with no solid evidence, no one believes what she saw. The fact that Anna can for a while be considered an unreliable narrator is perhaps the main thing keeping the movie at least somewhat intriguing, even though we know deep down, thanks to the way films in this genre usually pan out, that Anna is on the right track. And Adams is the one cast member who tackles her role with some sincerity. But considering the insane amount of talent involved, it’s wild just how bad this movie is. The actors all play heightened versions of their characters, with Oldman and Russell particularly trying to act as potentially guilty as possible. The villain speech at the end is laughably cartoonish, as is the climax, when the film finally stops attempting to be smart and devolves into a gory struggle through Anna’s home. And even though almost the entire film takes place inside that home, the feeling of intimacy that usually accompanies stories set in confined spaces eludes it.
“The Woman in the Window” had a famously long and troubled production; filmed in 2018, it was scheduled to be released in theaters in fall 2019 before bad test screenings resulted in some retooling and a May 2020 release date, then moved again thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic before finally landing on Netflix this month. If “The Woman in the Window” was intended to be Joe Wright’s homage to psychological thrillers, I would think we’d at least feel some more passion in the proceedings. Instead, it feels like everyone, knowing that the film was not fun bad but bad bad, just gave up somewhere along the way. The cinematography and production design, especially in one of the film’s highlights, a scene that forces Anna to confront her past, at least, are nice to look at. “The Woman in the Window” also inexplicably costars Jennifer Jason Leigh, Brian Tyree Henry, and Letts.
“The Woman in the Window” is currently streaming on Netflix. Runtime: 100 minutes. Rated R.