This would be that incredibly rare two-star review which also recommends a film, because Netflix’s Woman In The Window (2021) is deserving of a viewing at least as ravaged treasure of a narrative, a cornucopia of cinematic possibilities: the perfect cast, the perfect story, the perfect stage; all of them wasted, except one – its lead.
Directed by Joe Wright, and written by Tracy Letts, based on a 2018 lauded debut novel of the same title, it hosts within its beautifully delivered, intensely saturated interior landscape one of the favourite stock characters of the contemporary mystery trade – a psychologist with mental health issues, a physician struggling to heal herself.
Amy Adams is fierce, and entirely committed as Anna Fox, an agoraphobic child psychologist in NYC, with strange flashbacks, a stunted career, some sort of dark secret, and a slightly shifty but helpful musician tenant (Wyatt Russell) in her basement. We hear her talking to her husband, with whom she is separated (Anthony Mackie), on a regular basis, mostly about her aggravation with her therapy sessions and her controlling therapist (Tracy Letts). Her daughter is with the father. She spends her days watching the world unfold outside her window, keeping tabs on new neighbours, boozing her way through a small war chest of meds, and surfing classic film noirs in her own home cinema, an apt metaphor for an entirely sealed-off hermetic dreamscape of an existence.
At the same time, Anna is also a compassionate, astute presence in this shadow-world of drawn curtains and intra-personal chamber politics, sharp of mind, and eager to squeeze out of her self-imprisonment through any sort of caring, close human contact. So when her neighbour’s awkward teenage son Ethan (Fred Hechinger) shows up at her door with a gift, she lets him in.
With an astounding supporting cast (Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman, Jennifer Jason Leigh), sensual, sophisticated cinematography, and a labyrinthine, clever, and finely laced Chirotic storyline, this murder mystery could well have been the Hitchcockian revival it was set up to be – curiously, more Spellbound than Rear Window, both of which films have a meta-run in the diegesis.
Pitting a gaslighting, sociopathic ‘normalcy’ against a PTSD anxiety-ridden ‘lunacy’, it has quite a lot to say about how society disregards and ostracizes the vulnerable, and how the vulnerable, in turn, have a distorted perception of themselves. There are strokes of brilliance in the manner which Anna moves from hyper-perception to air-tight delusion, questioning herself at every turn, and at the same time, being entirely certain of the part of her that is more steady, transparent, and sane than anything she witnesses in her environment.
Yet, somewhere half way in, the entire enterprise loses its way, turning a substantial, juicy plot into a procedural psycho-thriller, a Friday the 13th mess of a business, devil in shallow waters where there should have been the deep blue sea.
How it manages to fail, with so much going for it, is a mystery in itself.
It’s a beautiful failure, though. Which makes it worth watching.
Author: ©Milana Vujkov