The Woman in the Window review: Shallow Netflix thriller loses the plot
Amy Adams stars in a psychological thriller that can't live up to its big promise.
Jennifer BissetFormer Senior Editor / Culture
Jennifer Bisset was a senior editor for CNET. She covered film and TV news and reviews. The movie that inspired her to want a career in film is Lost in Translation. She won Best New Journalist in 2019 at the Australian IT Journalism Awards.
ExpertiseFilm and TVCredentials
Best New Journalist 2019 Australian IT Journalism Awards
Still, The Woman in the Window, streaming on Netflix now, is a swift-moving diversion, cramming in as many twists as humanly possible. The guessable reveals give you the high of success every time you hit the mark. You could do worse than sit through this shallow but occasionally satisfying psychological thriller. You could also do better and watch Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window.
Amy Adams is the snoop behind the camera spying the residents of a New York City street. An agoraphobe, her character Anna Fox mainly gossips about her neighbors with her shrink -- played by Tracy Letts, who also wrote the screenplay adapting A.J. Finn's popular 2018 thriller novel.
They tackle her agoraphobia with newly prescribed medication, but Anna throws in her own remedy on the side: Sharp Objects' amounts of wine, which she's repeatedly told she probably shouldn't be downing.
Her attentions swiftly narrow on the just-moved-in Russells, a weird and over-the-top bunch: Julianne Moore's artist Mom, sporting a tattoo and potty mouth so you know that she's edgy; Gary Oldman's loudly-spoken silver fox banker Dad; and Fred Hechinger's sweet yet troubled son Ethan.
As broadly drawn as they are, these characters add an eeriness to this small, heightened world. A few shots hold on a dollhouse in Anna's home, hinting Anna might be trapped in a world of trickery. This applies to us as well: Anna frequently chats on the phone to her husband, played by Anthony Mackie, and after a while you question whether you'll ever see him and their 8-year-old daughter appear on screen.
When Anna witnesses a murder, her pill and alcohol-infused spiral steps it up a notch. The people populating her claustrophobic lens start gestating even more wildly beside the windows in their homes. From her tenant in the basement (Wyatt Russell), to taps dripping and bumps in the night, Anna struggles to decipher if danger is real or not.
Director Joe Wright -- Pride & Prejudice and Atonement among his best work -- uses a few tricks to immerse us in Anna's warped reality: flashes of mysterious falling snow, blood spatter across the screen, close-ups of Anna's eyes or a surreal spotlight on her face.
Yet instead of ramping up the suspense, these schlocky elements dislodge the atmosphere of Anna's Harlem townhouse. From three stories up, a skylight sheds a period piece glow over the condo's beautiful 19th century interior. The odd pretty pinks and blues are both admirably unexpected and a little distracting in a film noir.
Adams is stoic as she sports Anna's dishevelled oversized shirts, occasionally finding ways to break through the heavy melodrama with a welcome laugh or a smile. Yet a clunky script -- featuring odd responses from characters who don't seem to be listening to each other -- and quick cuts rush you from twist to twist so that their impact can barely be felt.
Somehow the quality of the cast and those behind the camera, including Danny Elfman on the score, can't deliver everything The Woman in the Window promises. A theatrical misfire that should have leaned into its psychedelic parts, The Woman in the Window is not the surreal, paranoia hellscape we deserve. Instead, the only excitement and thrills come from every scene abruptly escalated with bouts of yelling and hysteria.