There’s a point in The Woman in the Window when it dawns on Anna, its protagonist, that she might be wrong about what story she’s living in. She thought she was witness to disturbing acts of violence within the family across the street. But her mental instability, her alcoholism, and her many prescription pills have others doubting her account, and eventually, she starts to question her own recollections as well.
But while Anna’s narrative eventually reaches definitive, if not terribly satisfying, answers about what’s really been going on this whole time, the movie around her never seems to find that clarity. It’s a classy psychological thriller — no, it’s a surrealist nightmare. It’s an emotional exploration of trauma, or a ridiculous potboiler. It’s trash that doesn’t know it’s trash, except when it seems like maybe it does.
At least Anna gets some sort of closure in the end. All audiences will be left with is confusion and disappointment.
What it definitely is, is muddled. The Woman in the Window is based on a novel by A.J. Finn, which clearly took inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window — Anna, played by Amy Adams, is an agoraphobe who spends her days spying on her neighbors from her windows. But mostly, it seems patched together from a word cloud of genre elements that the Netflix audience might like: the possibly unreliable female narrator, the possibly abusive husband, the possibly traumatized minor, the possibly malicious psychiatrist, and an undisclosed past trauma or two to bring it all together.
They fit together in a way that manages to seem both groaningly predictable (you can guess most of the big twists in this movie based on how much of the run time is left) and wildly haphazard. Red herrings abound, but struggle to add intrigue or misdirection. By the end, the final reveals feel less like payoffs to some grand master plan than like desperate attempts by the storytellers to throw something, anything, in hopes it’ll stick.
At least it’s got a bit of style, thanks to director Joe Wright. There are moments of The Woman in the Window that feel genuinely disorienting, even when nothing that weird is happening; a brief shot of an apple suspended in space comes to mind. And the interiors of Anna’s enormous Manhattan townhouse (seriously, how does she afford it??) feel appropriately off, tastefully cozy but done in colors that clash just enough to spark uneasiness.
Top-notch performers like Adams, Gary Oldman, Julianne Moore, Anthony Mackie, and Brian Tyree Henry further class up the joint, giving The Woman in the Window the sheen of prestige — as does Tracy Letts, who wrote the screenplay and appears onscreen in a supporting role. But none of them really manage to elevate The Woman in the Window beyond its preposterous plotting and paper-thin characters. Even Adams can’t make Anna much more than a faint copy of her other, better performances in works like Arrival and Sharp Objects.
Indeed, whatever shine these talented people bring ultimately works to the film’s detriment. The Woman in the Window is most fun in its bananas climax, which swerves so hard into shock and awe that it finally becomes the cheesy little thriller it should have been all along — but it spends most of its time asking you to please take it very seriously while giving you very little reason to do so, which only results in a deflating sense of boredom. At least Anna gets some sort of closure in the end. All audiences will be left with is confusion and disappointment.
The Woman in the Window is now streaming on Netflix.