Director: Joe Wright
Genre: Psychological thriller-drama
This new Netflix thriller is based on a book of the same name by A. J. Finn. Directed by Joe Wright (‘Pride & Prejudice’, ‘Atonement’, ‘Anna Karenina’), it boasts of the amazingly versatile Amy Adams who has surprisingly not earned a single Academy Award despite outstanding performances and even Oscar nominations since 2007. This movie could perhaps push her forward as a leading contender in the Oscars race next year.
Amy Adams plays Dr Anna Fox, a child psychologist who suffers from agoraphobia (the fear of going outside) so she stays locked inside her spacious Brooklyn mansion and has couriers deliver her packages by the door. But this is not all. Anna speaks of being separated from her husband and little daughter. She lives alone in her home and cannot stop drinking. Her psychiatrist is not able to push her out of her house. And every day, Anna feels even more paranoid that someone is in her house. Is it all in her mind?
The less is said about the story, the better it is to watch it on screen. What needs to be known is that it is a dark and intense movie that freely wears its influences on its sleeves. Hitchcock’s ‘Rear Window’ is a primary influence as we see Anna Fox spy on her neighbours with a camera (“my psychiatrist said that curiosity is healthy!”, she argues on the phone), much like the leading man in ‘Rear Window’. Another influence on this movie is the genre of the so-called “women in peril” pictures of Old Hollywood in the 1940s and 50s. A recurring trope in this genre is the mentally unstable heroine who struggles to maintain the last remnants of her sanity while progressively getting cornered by dangerous men. Gaslighting a woman to believe that the things she claims to see are all in her mind and are not, indeed, real is yet another theme of this genre. What more? Anna wears the iconic 1940s style long gown like the crazy women do in the ‘peril movies’ and sports her dishevelled hair and the no-makeup look as she stumbles around in her dark gothic-style house. The psychologically wounded Anna is also seen watching such black-and-white movies on the TV, often going to sleep watching them. Oh, and she’s a cat lady too. The classics ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane’ and ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ both come to mind as we see Anna mentally spiral in her own home, much like the lead heroines in the films mentioned.
Amy Adams plays Anna magnificently, not afraid to make herself look un-photogenic but like a real woman that is undergoing a real depression. Despite withholding important information from us, we can still see in her face that she is suffering from trauma and she is hiding secrets. The 1960s psychological films by Roman Polanski such as ‘Repulsion’ and ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ also come to mind, with their themes of a woman going insane in her apartment and the possible evil of the neighbours next door respectively, watching this movie. The most recent film that we can use as a reference is 2016’s Emily Blunt-starrer ‘The Girl in The Train’. In fact, both this and ‘Woman in the Window’ feel like they have been cut from the same cloth. Two movies starring accomplished but underrated actresses who play ‘broken’ alcoholic women that live alone by themselves. One day, these two leads see something they shouldn’t and act against their own rational minds to solve the mystery. Meanwhile, the stakes get increasingly higher and dangerous, and their mental health spirals. Their narrations become increasingly unreliable and disjointed.
‘The Woman In The Window’ takes place largely inside Anna’s house because due to her agoraphobia, she never steps out. As a result, the movie has the feeling of a ‘stage play’. But it is not boring in that regard because director Joe Wright takes full advantage of the entrancingly beautiful but dread-inducing architecture of this gothic apartment. He plays with light, shadow, darkness and the sounds of doors and creaking floors, making the home a reflection of Anna’s psyche. This will either be an impressive and imaginative effort for some audiences or be seen as a bombastic and occasionally unnecessary show for others. It all depends on the viewer.
The movie has many tense scenes and nerve-racking moments which will make you sit on the edge of your seats. The sound design, lighting and colour grading are all top-notch. It is nice to see a film l give as much importance to sets and colour as the movies did in the 1940s and 50s’ Technicolor era. The background score is, however, not the most memorable and it does not stand out. There are visual effects that can make you feel thrown off and unsettled. Perhaps, this was a stylistic choice meant to put us in the shoes of the lead character. But it could simply be distracting for the audience.
There are some dialogue exchanges that are quite funny and will make you chuckle. It is a tightly written story with unexpected twists, and revelations that will make one look back and think “ah, the clues were indeed there.” But despite all the intrigue, the script has its fair share of problems. After the first act, it may seem a bit slow and lagging to some folks. And there are revealings at the end that seem to come out of nowhere and might make viewers raise their eyebrows. It felt like the film missed the third act and that more scenes could have been written to make the climax unspool amazingly. This is a funny comment to make because the film is already an hour and forty minutes long. And yet, it could have been longer.
Julianne Moore shines in the few scenes she has. Her dinner conversation with Amy Adams brings much humour and levity to the dark film. Sadly, the same cannot be said for Gary Oldman whose character Alistair Russell (an abusive neighbour) comes off as a one-dimensional bad guy. Jennifer Jason Leigh is also wasted here as she is underused; she barely has any lines or good scenes. It’s a shame because more involvement from her could have elevated this thriller to the more complex territory. Brian Tyree Henry, who plays an inspector, is also given little to do and he even seems uninterested to be there.
In the end, this is very much an Amy Adams vehicle which is definitely not a bad thing as we can all rely on Adams to carry a movie on her back with her magnetism and intelligence. However, it doesn’t hurt to get more help and involvement from other actors especially if it is a cast as talented and prolific as this one.