An agoraphobic woman confined to her Brooklyn home witnesses a murder across the street – or does she? – in The Woman in the Window, an aggravating new thriller that has debuted on Netflix after sitting on the shelf since 2019. Despite some vibrant performances and florid direction by Joe Wright, this one sinks under its leaps in logic and stale narrative devices.
The titular Woman in the Window is Anna Fox (Amy Adams), a child psychologist separated from her husband Ed (Anthony Mackie) and young daughter Olivia (Mariah Bozeman) and suffering from agoraphobia so debilitating that she faints if she opens her front door.
Or maybe the woman in the window is new neighbor Jane Russell (Julianne Moore) who rescues Anna after the fainting incident and shares a glass of wine with her. Later, Anna witnesses Jane being brutally murdered across the street, though she doesn’t spot the murderer.
Or did she see what she saw? And by virtue, did we see what we saw? Every scene in The Woman in the Window plays out so aloof that we don’t trust anything that’s happening on the screen.
In the film’s very first scene, for example, Adams is so overplaying her character’s instability that we inherently doubt the psychiatrist she’s talking to (played by Tracy Letts, who also adapted the source novel by A.J. Finn) is even there.
Later, the Russell’s teenage son Ethan (Fred Hechinger) shows up and acts so strangely that we assume he’s hiding something… or maybe he’s just a figment of Anna’s imagination!
The situation repeats itself with Ethan’s dad Alistair Russell (Gary Oldman, at his most histrionic), who shows up foaming at the mouth as he threatens Anna for interfering with his family. And then with David (Wyatt Russell), Anna’s downstairs tenant, who launches into a tirade because Anna… picked up his mail.
In scene after scene of The Woman in the Window, we watch Adams’ visually unstable character interact with another visually unstable character. That includes two police detectives (Brian Tyree Henry and Jeanine Serralles) and another woman who shows up and insists that she’s the real Jane Russell (Jennifer Jason Leigh).
In cinematic language, the filmmakers are clueing us in to the fact that something isn’t right. Or rather, everything isn’t right. By the climax, when all the characters are finally gathered together, we expect the film to reveal that none of them actually exist and the entire movie has been unfolding in Anna’s head, The Usual Suspects-style.
But the actual revelation The Woman in the Window tosses at us is somehow worse than that.
Working out the logistics of how the characters are supposed to have accomplished what they accomplished is bad enough; character motivation is another story altogether. This thing just doesn’t add up, and a ghastly extended finale raises even more questions than it answers.
Director Joe Wright’s Atonement is one of the best films of this century, and subsequent features Hanna and Anna Karenina were also first-rate. But The Woman in the Window marks his third straight dud following Pan and The Darkest Hour.
His work here is more than adequate – there’s a great feel for Anna’s spacious New York apartment that recalls David Fincher’s steady hand in Panic Room, and the cast gives it their all. But the narrative plays things so aloof and obvious, giving us an unreliable narrator and red herring after red herring, that The Women in the Window becomes an aggravating thing to sit through.
Writer A.J. Finn, whose own story would make a far more interesting thriller than what’s presented here, was accused of unscrupulously cribbing from Copycat for his novel. You can add Hitchcock’s Rear Window. But his real inspiration seems to have been Adaptation’s Donald Kaufman.