Ever since Gone Girl took both the book world and film world by storm, we’ve seen dozens of stories in a similar mold: Twisty thrillers centered around women, often with elements of unreliable narrators, unknown pasts, and themes of women wronged and mistrusted by a patriarchal society. You know the type. A plurality have a title that’s something like “The ____’s Wife/Daughter/Mother” or “The ___ in the ____,” including today’s selection.
These types of stories are like Utz potato chips. You know it’s not fine cuisine, but if it’s just hanging around, you’re not gonna say no. You know you’ll get a rush in the moment, and won’t feel too bad about it later, unless perhaps you over-indulge.
In other words, this is one of those subgenres of film that has a pretty high floor of enjoyability: Give us a prestige actress manipulating her memories, fearing for her life, some jump scares and twists, and you’ve got yourself a piece of entertainment.
I guess I use all of that as preamble to The Woman in the Window because it’s not all that good, and yet it’s still pretty watchable and fascinating, even in its badness. We have Amy Adams starring as Anna Fox, a woman suffering agoraphobia due to some mysterious trauma. The story is a riff on Rear Window (the “Window” in the title is our clue). Anna believes she witnesses the murder of Jane Russell (Julianne Moore) by her husband Alistair (Gary Oldman). When none of the evidence supports this — including Jane Russell *gasp* reappearing as a different actress — Anna becomes a depressive gumshoe, trying to piece together her reality as she binges on wine and antidepressants. (No fewer than four characters make some remark along the lines of “you shouldn’t be drinking with those meds; you might start hallucinating” — think we might get some unreliable narrator shenanigans?)
The movie features some of the most fractured, choppy editing I’ve ever seen. Some of this I attribute to the artistic decision of subjectively capturing Anna’s perspective, but there’s undoubtedly some incompetence mixed in there as well.
The plot spirals in and out of coherency and clumsiness, not helped at all by the ham-fisted acting that plays almost like parody: Adams changes her mind about five times about how shrill and desperate to play Anna; Oldman is unhinged; Wyatt Russell gives a baffling performance as a maybe-friendly-maybe-sinister roommate; and Fred Hechinger is catastrophically bad as the son of Jane and Alistair. It’s really only Moore who seems to hit the exact right notes for her character, despite (or perhaps due to) being on screen for like 4 minutes total.
There’s some interesting stylization to The Woman in the Window that evokes the claustrophobia of the situation. One scene in particular, about an hour into the film, frames Adams in an isolated symmetry in an extended, zooming shot as she makes some dramatic realizations. It made me wonder if I was being too hard on the movie up to that point. But then, the final 40 minutes are a trainwreck, and my generosity vanished.
The ending is aggressively stupid, not helped by an extremely predictable twist. (Do you think maybe the one person Anna doesn’t suspect but who always appears shortly after some tense moment might be up to something?) My wife says that there’s a bit more depth to the ending in the source novel, but that’s not a high bar to clear.
Since watching, I’ve learned that the film was chopped up after some negative test screenings. Its behind-the-scenes confusion is pretty clear in retrospect — there’s just a lot going on that doesn’t make sense, and the inconsistency of the editing is a major red flag.
So, yeah, The Woman in the Window is still an Utz potato chip. But it’s one of those half-burnt ones covered salt you find at the bottom of the bag.