The Woman in the Window, review: if you like Hitchcock, best avert your eyes

Amy Adams as the alcoholic Anna Fox in Netflix's dodgy Woman in the Window - Netflix
Amy Adams as the alcoholic Anna Fox in Netflix's dodgy Woman in the Window - Netflix
  • Dir: Joe Wright. Starring: Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Julianne Moore, Tracy Letts, Anthony Mackie, Brian Tyree Henry, Wyatt Russell, Fred Hechinger, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jeanine Serralles. 15 cert, 100 min

Filming wrapped on The Woman in the Window in October 2018, and only then, it is said, did the troubles with this wackadoo psychological thriller begin. First, the author of the source novel, “AJ Finn”, was exposed as a liar (real name: Daniel Mallory) by The New Yorker. Along with many attention-grabbing fibs, he was accused of plagiarising the 1995 Sigourney Weaver/Holly Hunter vehicle Copycat, whose plot about an agoraphobic shrink he had, ironically, copied.

Misplaced faith in his bestselling debut started to crumble as soon as the film, adapted by Tracy Letts, made it to test screenings, which went so badly that the original director Joe Wright was essentially booted off. At the behest of producer Scott Rudin, Tony Gilroy was hired to write and direct reshoots, and the film was delayed till May 2020, then delayed again by the pandemic. Netflix bought it from 20th Century Fox in August.

Since then, Rudin has become an industry pariah, after multiple accusations of bullying in the workplace. So it is that his star-laden suspense ride, once touted with such hoopla, trickles on to the service now with hardly a squeak of promotion or fuss.

That’s a lot of turmoil for one film to weather – almost as much as poor Amy Adams endures, in the leading role of suicidal alcoholic “shut-in” Dr Anna Fox, who never leaves her palatial brownstone on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Painfully separated from her former family, she spends her days in nosy parker mode, peeping on the new neighbours who’ve just bought the place across the street.

There’s troubled teenager Ethan (Fred Hechinger), his possibly abusive father (a white-haired, fulminating Gary Oldman), and Jane Russell (Julianne Moore), who pays Anna a visit one afternoon and stays for a boozy cards-and-gossip session. Soon after that, a strung-out Anna espies through the window what’s she’s 98 per cent sure is a stabbing.

If it sounds like a variation on Rear Window, it is that, and all the rest. Vertigo and Spellbound are playing on Anna’s flatscreen, too, in case we needed more clues that Wright grasped this as his excuse for deliriously vapid Hitchcock homage. Much as Kenneth Branagh did on Dead Again and Robert Zemeckis on (the genuinely entertaining) What Lies Beneath, Wright’s answer was to throw everything but the kitchen sink at this.

The lighting cycles through a whole spectrum of garish colours, poured through Anna’s twitching curtains according to the time of day. These style choices are applied like absurd icing to a cake that hasn’t set. The plot makes Anna question her sanity – especially when Jennifer Jason Leigh turns up, insisting she’s the real Jane Russell; and the truth about Anna’s relationship with her ex-husband (Anthony Mackie) emerges in a flashback. In a haze of antidepressants and Merlot, she comes across to the police as a meddling cat lady who knows how crazy she sounds.

Adams shot this before her turn as a careening heroin addict in the awful (and also on Netflix) Hillbilly Elegy. Back-to-back, it’s an exhausting pair of performances to wade through, even just as a viewer. She’s entitled to a long lie down now, surely. Her Anna is a bag of nerves in an oversized pink bathrobe, who tries to puzzle out the plot’s contradictions while riding a rocking chair, or wanders down to see if her basement lodger (a wasted Wyatt Russell) can figure out what’s what.

Oldman and Hechinger go ridiculously overboard, with only Moore giving us a promising sketch of a fly-by-night mystery woman, who prods away almost pruriently at the sad-case voyeur before her. No one but Adams hangs around for more than a scene or three, evidently victims of the editing shears that have come down on this in a frenzy.

Wherever Wright stopped and Gilroy took over, the film is manic and in need of its meds – especially when it reaches climactic fever-pitch. Danny Elfman’s hysterical violins whip up a storm, rather needlessly, given the literal one pounding the roof terrace to which a terrorised Anna retreats. The use of a triple-pronged cultivator as a lethal weapon is pure 1990s camp – who exactly has been doing the gardening up there? And some of the camera movements make Road Runner look sedate. There’s bad fun to be had in the final stretch – if you go in fully aware that the production flew off the rails.

Available on Netflix now