The Woman in the Window (2021) ☆☆(2/4): A disappointingly unreliable thriller

“The Woman in the Window”, which was released on Netflix in last week, is not as bad as I feared, but what a letdown it is. While I was not entirely bored, the movie never exceeded my expectation or surpassed several possible answers I could think from its mystery thriller premise during my viewing (Full disclosure: One of them turned out to be very correct), and the overall result is pretty unimpressive despite a number of considerable talents assembled together for its production.

Right from the beginning, the movie emphasizes to us how troubled its unstable heroine has been for a while. Due to her agoraphobia which is implied to be originated from some traumatic incident in the past, Dr. Anna Fox (Amy Adams) has been isolated in her house located in New York City while never getting out of the house at all. It is clear from the latest private session with her psychiatrist that she needs to be more active in dealing with her ongoing mental problem, but, as a former professional psychiatrist, she is not so pleased about being routinely evaluated, and she frequently depends on pills and alcohol as trying to look away from whatever is hurting her inside.

When she does not spend time on watching movies or taking care of her pet cat, Anna often observes what is going on outside her house, and she recently becomes quite interested in a family who has just moved into a house across the street. As far as she learns from a local real estate agent, the new owner of that house is a middle-aged banker who came from Boston along with his wife and adolescent son, and Anna is subsequently visited by his son, who instantly attracts her sympathy due to his nervously awkward attitude.

Not long after that boy’s visit, Anna is unexpectedly approached by a woman she has never seen before. Because of the little kindness from this woman, Anna does not mind having this woman in her house for some time, and it does not take much time for Anna to infer that this woman is her new neighbor’s wife. As they drink more with each other, Anna is more relaxed than usual, and, as they talk more with each other as two mothers, it looks like they can be more than merely good neighbors.

However, there soon come several ominous signs shortly after this seemingly cordial encounter. Her new neighbor suddenly appears at the front door of Anna’s house, and he asks whether his wife dropped by her house. Because of an understandable reason besides his rather menacing attitude, Anna lies to him, and she is more disturbed later as surreptitiously watching what is going on inside his house. As far as she can see via the windows of his house, it seems to her that there is something quite wrong about this dude and his family, and his son refuses to tell anything to her when she happens to meet him again after a small but suspicious incident during one night.

As focusing more on her new neighbor and his family, Anna becomes more disturbed than before, and then she happens to witness a shocking incident occurring in her neighbor’s house. She sees her new friend stabbed by someone, so she hurriedly calls 911 and then attempts to go to her neighbor’s house, but, of course, she finds herself quite overwhelmed by her agoraphobia before eventually losing her consciousness.

When she subsequently regains her consciousness, Anna is caught off guard by a very confusing circumstance. The police did arrive shortly after her phone call to 911, but they did not find anything suspicious in her neighbor’s house, and, to Anna’s shock and bafflement, her neighbor’s wife is very much alive while also not being the woman with whom she met and talked a few days ago.

This is surely a classic mystery setup, and director Joe Wright and his crew members including cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel and composer Danny Elfman try really hard for amplifying Anna’s growing fear and confusion along the plot, which expectedly throws lots of suspicious signs here and there around its increasingly unstable heroine. While Anna’s new neighbor looks all the more insidious as firmly preventing Anna from meeting his son again, the boy remains frustratingly elusive while not saying much to her as before, and a guy who has lived in the basement of Anna’s house while occasionally working as its handyman looks like hiding something important from Anna. In addition, Anna’s ex-husband, who has been currently with their daughter somewhere, still does not come to her house even though she has often interacted with him on the phone, and he simply expresses some care and concern from the other end of the line.

However, the screenplay by Tracy Letts (he also briefly appears as Anna’s psychiatrist, by the way), which is based on the novel of the same name by A.J. Finn, often suffers from plot contrivance and incoherent characterization, and it is depressing to see how Amy Adams and the other main cast members of the film try to overcome many artificial moments in the screenplay. Adams is ready to hurl herself into her character’s questionable state of mind, but her commendable efforts are undermined by deficient storytelling packed with rote clichés including the talking villain syndrome, and the other notable cast members in the film including Gary Oldman, Anthony Mackie, Wyatt Russell, Brian Tyree Henry, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Julianne Moore are thoroughly wasted in their thankless supporting roles, which are no more than plot elements to be manipulated in one way or another.

In conclusion, “The Woman in the Window” is not a total disaster at least, but it is passable at best and mediocre at worst, and I can only wish that Adams, who is still one of best American actresses working in Hollywood at present, and many other talented persons involved with this plain dud will soon move onto better things. As a seasoned moviegoer, I have seen far worse thriller movies, but I have also watched much better ones including Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” (1954), and you really should check out that great thriller film instead if you have never seen it before.

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