Imagine for a moment a film full of Oscar-winning actors you love, written by a Pulitzer prize winner whose work you adore, directed by a director with a solid track record, and that pays homage to some of the great mystery stories of all time. Now imagine that it isn’t very good.
The Woman in the Window is this movie. Starring Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Julianne Moore, Anthony Mackie, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Fred Hechinger, Brian Tyree Henry, and Wyatt Russell, the film follows Anna (Adams), a woman with agoraphobia who witnesses a murder in the home next door. Anna first meets each member of the new family before the murder happens: the awkward son (Hechinger), the angry father (Oldman), and the empathetic mother, Jane (Moore). It’s Jane that Anna sees murdered, but when the police come to her home to answer Anna’s accusations, Jane is now played by Jennifer Jason Leigh. Did I mention that Anna is also on several drugs, all of which she takes with wine?
There are many influences on this story, everything from Rear Window to The Girl on the Train, but instead of feeling like a homage, it feels like the film is simply cribbing scenes and ideas from these (mostly) better sources.
Here’s the thing, this movie is very technically well made. The camera work is interesting and dynamic, moving the frame to hide or reveal characters or clues in plain sight. Wright uses long takes to build tension and let the actors do their best with the material they are given, and at many points, it feels more like watching a play than a film. However, none of it really works. The homages and references are always at the forefront. The acting from all parties isn’t so much bad as it is too big, and maybe most importantly: the mystery itself isn’t that interesting.
I’m not one to say that if you can guess whodunnit early that that makes a bad film; Unraveling how they did it can be just as enjoyable. However if you can figure out who did it immediately and how they did it feels rote, well, that’s a different story.
The Woman in the Window feels like it is trying to elevate a trashy dime-store mystery story, the kind you buy in an airport and discard at the end of your journey. While there is nothing wrong with that kind of novel, it doesn’t really work when given the prestige treatment, and I’m not sure how anyone read the last act of this movie –which is bonkers to the point of being nearly hilarious– and thought it was going to work.
The Woman in the Window is available on Netflix globally now.