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Photo: ‘The Woman in the Window’/Netflix
What happens when you witness something horrific, but no one believes you? ‘The Woman in the Window’ follows a child psychologist named Anna (Amy Adams) with agoraphobia – confined to her home for the past 10 months after a traumatic, failed suicide attempt. Content with her loneliness and afraid of the outside world, she spends her days watching TV and looking in on the lives of the apartment tenants across the street – all from the safe confines of her own shielded window blinds.
At the beginning of the film, a family called “The Russells” moves into the apartment directly across from Anna – consisting of the patriarch Alistair Russell (Gary Oldman), his wife Jane (Julianne Moore), and their son Ethan (Fred Hechinger). One day, Anna witnesses Jane’s murder while spying on her throughout the window – catalyzing the main tension and events of the film.
‘The Woman in the Window’ follows Anna’s journey of solving the killing and simply convincing others of its occurrence – with her reliance on medication and her own mental health issues hindering her credibility. A psychological thriller with a female focus, the film is reminiscent of films like ‘The Girl on the Train’ or ‘Gone Girl.’ Ultimately, the film illustrates a harrowing picture of a tormented woman trying to escape her painful past.
‘The Woman in the Window’ – Amy Adams’ Performance
The highlight of ‘The Woman in the Window’ by far is Amy Adam’s performance, which of course, isn’t a surprise. One of the most successful actresses in Hollywood, Adams is known for everything from ‘Enchanted’ to ‘Arrival’ and has been nominated for six Academy Awards. In ‘Woman in the Window,’ she leans into her dramatic sensibilities – pushing her character Anna to her emotional brink. Narratively, the film relies so deeply on her performance too, as it mainly follows her character confined to her own home. With, often, no one to act off of besides herself – Adam’s talents shine.
Adam’s character, Anna, is a woman terrified of the outdoors. Save for her cat and her basement tenant David (Wyatt Russell), she’s completely and utterly alone. Straight from the beginning of the film, there is a wash of mysteries surrounding her background and why she is how she is. We learn that she is married, though her husband and daughter live apart from her. Through her relationship with Ethan Russell, we see that she has an intense fixation on protecting children. Finally, as we accompany her to an at-home therapy session, we learn that she is being dosed with a variety of intense medication. All of these facts work together to ask one question – is she a reliable narrator?
The entire film questions Anna’s account of Jane’s murder – did it even happen? Did she ever really meet Jane? Is she just hallucinating due to her medication? And that plot-based inquiry, the main dramatic question of the film, is punctuated by a deep character study into Anna herself. Ultimately, without giving away spoilers, Adams does a fantastic job navigating this complex character, playing with our trust as she too struggles with if she can trust what she has seen.
Depiction of Mental Health
(FYI: There are spoilers in this section)
Something that the film misses the mark on, however, is its depiction of mental health. As stated before, Anna has intense agoraphobia and other mental health issues, which led her to attempt suicide months before. But mental health is also seen in the character of Ethan Russell – the son of the family across the street. When we first meet Ethan, he is depicted as someone with special needs, perhaps on the autistic spectrum. He is endearing, kind, and seen as someone who needs protection. However, in one of the biggest twists of the film, we learn that Ethan is not who he says he is, and is in fact faking that persona the entire time. Instead, he is actually a budding serial killer trying to find his “pattern” or “trademark.”
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Apart from being an odd, out-of-left-field reveal, this twist feels simply distasteful. With mental health and disabilities already depicted badly in the media, if at all, this really felt like a disrespectful way to handle a young character with possible development disabilities. In the end, Ethan’s reveal as a serial killer caused his entire previous persona to be completely forgotten and reduced to a farce – seen as something embarrassing to his own character, which is why he chose it.
Anna’s mental health isn’t depicted great as well – though the exhibitionism of it all could be excused due to the film’s genre. However, by the end of the film, it feels like her suicidal thoughts and hallucinations have been exploited for the benefit of cinematic value. As an incredible actor, it’s not as if Adam’s performances feel over the top. Rather, this seems to be an issue with the film’s tone and writing.
Callbacks to Other Films
With its sense of thriller and theme of voyeurism, ‘The Woman in the Window’ is most definitely trying to emulate Hitchcockian sensibilities, with a strong influence from ‘Rear Window.’ From shot choice to Anna’s simple characteristic of being a Peeping Tom, the film is practically built on the idea of looking into other people’s lives.
Other films that ‘The Woman in the Window’ emulates, as mentioned before, are ‘Gone Girl’ and ‘The Girl on the Train.’ Both are women-focused stories embedded with mystery, murder, and speculation. In ‘The Woman in the Window,’ Anna has a very motherly sense of protection over children – stemming from her own experiences with her daughter. She also shares a strong sense of womanhood with Jane, which pushes her to investigate her murder and never give up.
All in all, the film follows a very specific feminine experience in the hopes and fears that Anna possesses, the things that bring her comfort and anxiety. Often in stories, women are also the ones labeled as “crazy” or not credible, which is something the film touches on as well.
Overall, ‘The Woman in the Window’ is an intriguing psychological thriller with an enthralling premise. Whether or not that premise pays off or not depends on what you are expecting from the film. To put it simply, the film is filled with many twists and turns which might feel too dramatized or hard to believe for many. However, if you’re looking for an entertaining thriller that could truly go anywhere, the film would definitely still be an enjoyable watch. Just don’t expect it to be highbrow in its reveals and conclusions.
‘The Woman in the Window’ is now streaming on Netflix.
CAST: Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Julianne Moore, Wyatt Russell, Fred Hechinger
CREW: Directed by Joe Wright, Written by Tracy Letts
By Lana Nguyen
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Lana Nguyen is a writer and filmmaker currently pursuing a BFA in Film Production at USC. Her love for film stems from the belief that empathetic and humanistic stories can help enact cultural change, and is excited to review such releases in film and media. As a young Vietnamese American and Jon M. Chu scholar at USC, she is passionate about diversity and representation in film and hopes to contribute thoughtful and progressive commentary on these issues, aligning with Hollywood Insider’s mission to provide impactful and meaningful content.