At age 46, Amy Adams doesn’t appear as if she’s ready to give up her place on the Hollywood all-star team just yet. After delivering an inspiring performance in the 2020 film Hillbilly Elegy, she once again displayed her acting prowess in the 2021 Netflix film The Woman in the Window. The film was based on a thriller novel by A. J. Finn, a novel that was clearly heavily inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 classic Rear Window.
Before watching the film, I read the description for The Woman in the Window, and thought, There’s no way that they could so blatantly steal the plot from a classic Hitchcock movie and expect people not to notice. Then I remembered that we live in a world where Sonic the Hedgehog, a film based on a video game, was one of the highest-grossing movies of 2020, and I decided to lower my expectations.
To my surprise, in the very first shot of The Woman in the Window, a television was shown playing a scene from Hitchcock’s Rear Window featuring James Stewart, and I thought, Alright, at least they’re paying homage. The plots of the two movies did, in fact, have many similarities; however, The Woman in the Window seemed to bite off a bit more than it could chew by trying to be a jump-scaring thriller about a psychotic killer while also trying to make profound statements about mental health and post-traumatic stress.
That being said, Amy Adams delivered a masterful (if discomforting and depressing) performance and really carried this movie on her back. Other members of the star-studded cast also played their part well, and overall, the film pulls at your heart-strings and keeps you on the edge of your seat. Director Joe Wright brought a unique and engaging cinematographic style to the project that makes viewers feel just as delusional as Amy Adams’s character. It’s just a shame that there were some loose ends, and important ones, that the movie didn’t tie up.
The Woman in the Window Synopsis
The film starts off with Dr. Anna Fox (Amy Adams) wallowing in her apartment. She hasn’t left her apartment for 10 months because of her agoraphobia, as we’re told by her therapist. We also learn from her therapist that she’s recently tried to commit suicide. From the very start of the movie, Dr. Fox is popping more than the recommended dose of her medication and washing it down with red wine (which she’s definitely not supposed to be doing). When she’s not watching classic movies on her couch or talking to her separated husband Ed (Anthony Mackie) on the phone, she’s staring out of her window and spying on her neighbors across the street. Creepy.
Anna observes as a new family moves in across the street. Shortly after, a boy comes to Anna’s door to deliver a candle, a gift from his mother. The boy introduces himself as Ethan Russell (Fred Hechinger), her new neighbor. Not long after that, on Halloween, Anna’s house gets pelted with eggs, forcing her to open her door and causing her to faint. When she awakens, she’s being cared for by another woman who says she’s Jane Russell (Julianna Moore), Ethan’s mother.
Jane and Anna get all boozed up and talk about their problems in very opaque ways. Jane says that her husband Alistair (Gary Oldman) is a tight-fisted stick in the mud who’s too harsh on their son. After a few massive glasses of wine, Jane leaves Anna’s apartment.
A few days later, Anna is spying out her window as she usually does when she sees her new friend Jane getting stabbed in the stomach. Anna calls the cops and then attempts to run across the street to save Jane, only to pass out again from shock. When she awakens, she’s in her apartment with two police officers and Alistair Russell, who she believes was the murderer. Ethan Russell is also there along with another woman who is claiming to be Jane Russell. Anna is all discombobulated and the cops don’t believe a word she says about Alistair killing the real Jane.
Over the next few days, she tries to collect evidence to support her theory that Alistair is the murderer. She takes pictures of Alistair, calls his former offices, and finds the drawing that the original Jane had made for her. She comes up with a whole theory, all of which she tells her separated husband about on the phone. Finally, when she gets a mysterious email that contains a photo of her sleeping, she calls the police and explains to them her theory.
At this point in the film, we get our first major twist. The audience discovers that Anna’s family is not actually alive, as she had believed, but that they had died in a car crash that Anna has chosen to forget as a coping mechanism. Once Anna comes to grips that she’s been deluding herself about her family, she assumes that the whole story of Jane’s murder must also be a delusion. The cops leave her home, and Anna decides to kill herself.
As she’s contemplating suicide, Anna scrolls through pictures of her daughter on her phone, and happens to stumble upon a photo she took the night she met the original Jane. In the photo, you can see Jane’s reflection in the wine glass, and so Anna decides that her theory was correct all along.
Anna shows the photo to her tenant David (Wyatt Russell), who is entirely fed up with her antics at this point, explains to Anna that the original Jane Russell was actually a woman named Katie, the birth mother of Ethan Russell who Alistair Russell chose to leave behind because of a drug addiction. Apparently, Katie had been following the Russells around for years trying to reconnect with her son.
Only moments later, David is murdered by Ethan Russell, who Anna believed to be a troubled, innocent young boy up until this point in the movie. Ethan walks in holding a bloody knife and basically just explains the entire mystery all at once to Anna. Ethan was the one who killed his mother Katie, not Alistair. Why? Because he likes to watch people die. Apparently, he’d been hiding inside Anna’s apartment for the entire week, waiting for the right time to kill her.
In the climax of the film, Anna smashes a wine bottle on Ethan’s head, Ethan chases her around with a knife, Anna gets the knife away from him, Ethan stabs her in the side of the face with a gardening tool, and Anna eventually kills Ethan by dropping the elbow on him and sending him through a skylight window to fall four floors.
Anna survives. Everyone realizes that she wasn’t crazy. She resolves not to kill herself and to move out of her apartment and start a new chapter of her life. Hooray.
Here’s the Problem
While The Woman in the Window certainly featured some great acting (most notably from Amy Adams) as well as some interesting cinematographic elements that bordered on slapstick and surrealism at times, the story itself left a lot to be desired.
This film felt like a missed opportunity to give the audience some valuable insights into the nature of mental health issues and the post-traumatic stress that comes from losing loved ones. Instead, it seemed to brush all of that aside and lean more towards being a classic slasher movie about a psychotic murderer who murders just because he likes murdering.
The fact that Anna was able to kill Ethan in the end doesn’t resolve the fact that Anna cheated on her husband and then crashed her car, resulting in her husband and daughter’s death. It simply proves that the murder she witnessed wasn’t entirely a hallucination. The ending, in which Anna decides to move out of her apartment, seems to imply that Anna can ignore the underlying causes of her mental afflictions by just packing up and going to a new place, but that’s a pretty shallow take on a serious issue of mental health.
All in all, while The Woman in the Window was a captivating piece of directing with some laudable acting performance, it failed to be the deeply profound film that it could’ve been. And, on the tail end of a global pandemic during which mental health issues have been exacerbated by quarantine-induced isolation, the world needs serious commentaries on mental health issues more than shallow slasher films.