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The Comedy of Errors

Film Review: The Woman in the Window

18 May 21 words: Hilary Whiteside

Amy Adams’ new Hitchcockian thriller is predictable and cliched, writes Hilary Whiteside...

Director: Joe Wright
Starring: Amy Adams, Gary Oldman, Anthony Mackie
Running time: 100 minutes

The narrative of The Woman in the Window follows the path of a psychologist, confined to her apartment through agoraphobia and who passes her time viewing her various neighbours through the confines and security of her window. More particularly, she becomes obsessed with a new family who move opposite, conveniently within her scope. It is in their apartment that the woman witnesses a brutal crime and the film explores her psychological journey as she attempts not only to solve this crime, but also to reach a resolution to her own problems.  

One of the main problems in visiting a familiar cinematic theme, that of the voyeur as a central proponent to the film’s narrative, is that this sets up the audience to make comparisons explored in previous films. Obvious examples are Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954), Fritz Lang’s Woman in the Window (1944) and more recently, The Girl on the Train (2015). Immediately, the director is challenged with the task of presenting something new and developmental in order to make a mark and arguably, The Woman in the Window struggles to fulfil this need. Director Joe Wright draws very obviously and unapologetically on the traditional thriller/noir tool kit of cinematic devices not only to present his narrative, but to shape the imagery of the film. 

In fact, in some instances, this clinging to the rules of the genre is overworked and therefore becomes a parody of itself. For example, there is the inevitable use of shadows, darkness, heavy furniture to create an unsettling backdrop through which the woman’s psychological state declines. Inevitably, the use of these obvious, well worked tropes invite any even half-informed audience to make comparisons; it is tempting to become distracted, ticking off these references as they emerge. There appeared nothing to add, nothing new—simply the re-use of predictable, overworked cliches of this genre.

The cast, of course, is encouraging and so too is the director. Between them, their achievements and accolades are numerous and sound. The lead actors of Amy Adams, Gary Oldman and Julianne Moore offer reliability. In fact, nothing was at fault with the casting. Each actor played their role accordingly, but perhaps in a functional rather than an engaging way; it was difficult to find much empathy with any of these characters. Gary Oldman stolidly portrays the mendacious, violent, wife controlling neighbour, who becomes a source of suspicion from the start. As his back story gradually emerges, the audience is directed to regard him as a strong and likely candidate for violence. Julianne Moore, perhaps the most likeable of all of these characters, plays the skittish, probably unreliable best friend with panache and absolute reliability.

Amy Adams’ final scene, where every cinematic device appears to be thrown onto the set, takes hyperbole to new heights

Amy Adams does her best with her part. She billows convincingly around her apartment in ballooning night attire, frankly taking lockdown sartorial taste to new depths of atrocity. Her rendition of a woman obsessed, drug and drink fuelled, with hallucinatory tendencies is sound, if formulaic. Her character never really seems to take off and her final scene, where every cinematic device appears to be thrown onto the set, takes hyperbole to new heights. Watch out for Ethan though, he’s really weird—and have you ever seen such an ugly cat?

The set of the interior of the woman’s flat effectively gives the impression of confinement and restriction, physical and mental as experienced by the woman. The use of a doll’s house effectively suggests the minutiae of her present life and its tensions and the dark heavy furniture further emphasises the weight of her predicament and her inability to escape. 

The idea of double voyeurism was interesting, with the use of a camera to record her neighbour’s actions. An interesting use of long range shots was losing a character as they moved and disappeared behind connecting brickwork seemingly at a crucial point of the narrative. The ‘Escher-like’ staircase contributed to the psychological drama of the final scene emphasising the disturbed, fragile state of the woman’s mind.   

Many viewers will want to love this film and will set out with that intention. Many may well love this film—let’s hope so. On the other hand, many may well find little to charm them.

Did you know? Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross, who won an Oscar in April for their work on Pixar’s Soul, were going to compose the score for The Woman in the Window before dropping out and being replaced by Danny Elfman.

The Woman in the Window is available on Netflix

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