Netflix’s The Woman In The Window employs all of the same psychological candy as The Girl On The Train; a fractured female protagonist (portrayed by the always-excellent Amy Adams) witnesses something unspeakable from afar, but is disbelieved by everyone around her.
As one, they use her emotional baggage – her agoraphobia, her struggles with alcoholism, her deeply troubled past – to paint her into the role of a fantasist.
But is this a case of gaslighting at its finest, or has Adams’ Anna Fox truly dreamed up that disturbing act of violence?
Much like the bestselling book by AJ Finn that it’s based upon, The Woman In The Window employs a wealth of trickery to keep us guessing throughout. Anna’s separated from her husband (Anthony Mackie), but seems to be finding it difficult to accept this new iteration of her marriage – although they speak regularly on the phone, and their conversations are filled with warmth and affection. She’s a child psychologist herself, but she lashes out at her own therapist in anger throughout their sessions. She lives off a diet of cheap red wine and antidepressants, which she chases down with old movies. She never leaves the confines of her home.
Most important of all, though? Well, Anna has just one friend in the whole wide world; effervescent artist Jane Russell (Julianne Moore) – who, incidentally, is at the centre of that aforementioned “unspeakable” event.
Watch the trailer for The Woman In The Window below:
You can see how it might be incredibly easy to doubt the validity of Anna’s claims – just as it’s easy to see why Alistair Russell (Gary Oldman) would have a vested interest in painting the woman across the street out as “crazy and unhinged.” And you can no doubt see, too, that this film should be exactly the kind of twisted thriller that keeps viewers hooked from start to finish.
Unfortunately, though, the star-studded flick hasn’t been well received by critics. At all.
It’s not exactly surprising, really; test audiences weren’t fans of the film when they were shown it in 2018, which meant that Tony Gilroy was brought on late in the game to handle some last minute reshoots. Fox then handed the film over to Netflix and, without so much as a cinematic release, The Woman In The Window dropped onto the streaming platform today (14 May).
“This broken thriller is barely worth a look,” insists The Guardian’s review of the film. Vanity Fair, meanwhile, says the “doomed literary adaptation” is an “unmitigated disaster, not even capable of camp appeal.”
And Variety? Well, Variety says “it plays like a bad Brian De Palma movie, minus the camera movement.”
Essentially, the thriller has been absolutely savaged by critics – so much so that it boasts a paltry 25% ‘rotten’ rating on Rotten Tomatoes. So, what went so wrong?
Let’s set the predictable ending, undermining twists and turns, and OTT performances aside for a moment, because – let’s face it – that’s never stopped a Netflix film doing well before.
Instead, let’s focus on the unfortunate timing of The Woman In The Window’s release. Not only have those aforementioned filming setbacks mean that it’s missed the wave of Gone Girl-esque thrillers (a genuine shame), but Anna’s agoraphobic lifestyle is supposed to feel alien, stifling and claustrophobic. Her inability to leave her palatial brownstone is supposed to ramp up the tension as she drifts from window to window, never able to truly investigate the strange things she witnesses outside.
Here’s the thing, though; over the past 12 months, lockdown has forced many of us to – albeit unwittingly – live much like Anna (minus the property porn, obviously), and this means that her plight feels almost relatable, robbing it of its red-hot hook. We’ve been there, done that, bought the ‘I survived a year indoors’ T-shirts. And, sure, we don’t necessarily have a cheesy villain living next door, but… well, there are bigger things to be scared of than Oldman right now, quite frankly.
Personally, I don’t think the film deserves quite as much hate as it’s getting. It’s consistently engaging, if nothing else, and that clue-riddled narrative makes for good ambient viewing (as in, something to stick on in the background while you’re doing other things).
Just be sure not to set your expectations too high, OK?
Kayleigh Dray is Stylist’s digital editor-at-large. Her specialist topics include comic books, films, TV and feminism. On a weekend, you can usually find her drinking copious amounts of tea and playing boardgames with her friends.