The Woman in the Window, by Albert W. Vogt III

Lately I have been taking a little break from the films that people have suggested The Legionnaire review. There are personal reasons for my doing so, nothing serious, but I feel they are legitimate nonetheless. Besides, I am near the end of the most recent list. I will get back to it soon, and then it will be on to more requests. In the meantime, something I have yet to plug on the blog is another venture with which I am involved, and that is a podcast called Down & Out Reviews. If you are interested, you can find it on Spotify. My broadcast partner wants us to talk about a new Netflix film called The Woman in the Window. While we will be talking about it some time this week, along with who knows what else, please take a look at my review.

If you know classic Hitchcock films, there is something familiar about The Woman in the Window at the start. It hits this nod to Hitchcock squarely on the nose in the opening shots by seeing Rear Window (1954), with a scene from that movie paused on Dr. Anna Fox’s (Amy Adams) television. We move through her home as we hear her talking to her daughter Olivia (Mariah Bozeman) and husband Ed (Anthony Mackie). But all is not right in this upscale New York City town home. Olivia and Ed are not present, and we next see Anna speaking with her own mental health professional, Dr. Landy (Tracy Letts). I use that phrasing because, as we soon find out, she is a psychiatrist as well, but for children. So far, we believe that Anna’s main problem is agoraphobia (the fear of outside spaces, though we tend to conflate it with just leaving the home), perhaps brought on by being separated from her husband and daughter. She keeps herself busy by observing the comings and goings of the neighborhood around her. Of recent interest is the new tenants in the house across the street, the Russell family. Not all is well with this new family, either. The first of the newcomers to visit Anna is their son Ethan (Fred Hechinger), who shows up at her door. Against her better judgement, Anna lets Ethan in and it becomes apparent that there are troubles, and most of them pertain to his father Alistair (Gary Oldman). The next to visit her is Jane (Julianne Moore). She gushes to Anna about her son Ethan, and she also reveals some issues with Alistair. They share much, including some wine even though such consumption is not recommended for Anna given the pills she is on for her mental issues. The next day, Alistair comes over asking suspiciously whether or not any of his family had been in contact with her. Because these encounters, except with Alistair, went pleasantly, she is now emotionally invested. This leads her to begin snooping on them from her window, at times taking pictures of what she sees going on in the house across the street. In the course of doing this, she sees Jane being brutally murdered. Her attempt to make it over to her neighbor’s place to help results in her fainting in the street. When she comes to, she is back in her own house surrounded by police detectives and the Russells. There is one change, though, with the Russells. The person who Anna presumed was Alistair’s wife is another person (Jennifer Jason Leigh). The lead detective, Detective Little (Brian Tyree Henry), is the only one present willing to give any credence to anything Anna is saying about what she witnessed. Still, because they cannot find anything amiss, everyone leaves. In turn, Anna becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to the person she thinks is Jane Russell. We follow her as she becomes increasingly embroiled in uncovering what is going on with the Russells. When she brings the police back after discovering that someone had taken a pictures of her while she was sleeping and emailed it to her, her sanity is tragically brought into question. Someone informs her that her family is no longer alive, and we see that it is the result of a car accident they had gotten into while she was driving and arguing with Ed. Between that and her misuse of her medications, it demonstrates that Anna has a loose grip on reality. This revelation, though, seems to bring her back to earth and she apologizes to everyone for her behavior. Unfortunately, her next step is to want to commit suicide. Before she can do so, however, Ethan breaks into her home, intent on murdering her. You see, it was him had killed the person she thought was Jane, and he is a serial killer in the making. Surviving the attempt on her life seems to be what gives her the strength to carry on, and it closes with her letting go of her past and moving out.

There is one character I forgot to mention in discussing the plot of The Woman in the Window, and that is David (Wyatt Russell). He is a tenant in the basement of Anna’s multi-floored home. He is also a bit of a red herring. He is present throughout most of the film, and he is there simply to distract you from coming to the conclusion that it is Alistair, or, as it turns out, Ethan, who is the real monster. For brevity’s sake, I tend not to discuss red herrings when talking about plots because they literally go nowhere. I am also sometimes annoyed by them, though David turns out to be a good guy in the end. He helps Anna fight off Ethan, and dies in the attempt. So, way to be heroic. Because this is a thriller, despite being set virtually only in one place, his character fleshes out the story. The intent is to work you into frenzy trying to figure out what is really going on with Anna. Is she imagining these terrible things? Did Alistair kill Jane? Is this new Jane actually Alistair’s wife? Is David helping the Russells with their seemingly nefarious activities? If this was an action film, such a distraction would be just that: something that has the potential to take you out of the film. It works well in this one.

The Woman in the Window is another example of how we should not let our past haunt us. In discussing Quantum of Solace (2008), I characterized James Bond (Daniel Craig) as a prisoner to his obsession with getting revenge on those who had killed his former lover. In The Woman in the Window, Anna is held captive not only by the memory of her lost family, but also by the very walls within which she dwells. She attempts therapy to break free from it, but as a mental health professional herself she seems unwilling to stick with any of the advice Dr. Landy gives her. In fact, after what looks like a breakthrough when she realizes her family is dead and discusses this with Dr. Landy, this is when she makes the decision to end her own life. I have discussed at length the benefits of turning to God when you are in such a dark mental and emotional state. There are demons out there, whether you want to attribute them to the supernatural or not, and they can take a myriad of forms like remorse over what you tell yourself is your role in the death of your husband and daughter. If you let them rule you, it can lead to the kind of trauma you see in the film. One of the things I love about the Catholic Church is how there are so many expressions of God’s love it has given us over the centuries, the healing power that can save us all from that which pains us. An interesting example is seen in the movie. When the first Jane and Anna spend an evening together, Jane (whose real name is Katie) draws a picture that looks like the Virgin Mary with Child. I have not talked much about Mary in reviews, but as this image was a thing and this is May, Mary’s month, allow me to dwell a little more on the Mother of God. If you have ever seen a symbol that looks like a capital “M” with a Cross sprouting upwards from the middle of it, that is meant to signify how Mary leads us to Jesus. That is her role. Many of the Catholic prayers that involve Mary speak to that role. It is not Mary that heals, it is Jesus. Hence, when I see a picture like that in a film with such troubling themes, I feel like everything is going to be okay.

The Woman in the Window is quite the thriller. It is available on Netflix, if the above review has interested you. I can only imagine what we will say about it on the podcast, but that is part of the fun of that format. It is definitely not a film for the whole family, but if you are looking for a good story after you put the kids to bed, then go for it. And I do mean “good story.” Had Anna committed suicide, I would think differently about this film. But because she seems to be able to pull through and move on in the end, it gets my recommendation.

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