“The Woman in the Window” evokes two emotional states widely associated with the Covid-19 pandemic: real estate envy and the condition of melancholy drift that some psychologists call languishing. The resonance is purely accidental, since this adaptation of a 2018 novel by J.A. Finn, directed by Joe Wright (“Atonement”), was originally slated for theatrical release in 2019. To make a long story short, it fell through the cracks of the Fox-Disney merger and landed at Netflix, where it feels curiously at home.
Speaking of home, Dr. Anna Fox (Amy Adams) lives in a very nice one — a big brownstone on a quiet block in Harlem. Anna, whose husband (Anthony Mackie) and young daughter (Mariah Bozeman) are elsewhere, suffers from acute agoraphobia and chronic anxiety, which she treats with handfuls of pills and large glasses of red wine. Her shrink (Tracy Letts, also credited with the screenplay) makes house calls, and before long a lot of other people are interrupting Anna’s solitude. Her downstairs tenant (Wyatt Russell), a pair of detectives (Brian Tyree Henry and Jeanine Serralles), and members of a troubled family that has just moved in across the street.
Like so many of us, Anna responds to the tedium of her existence by watching old movies, including Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” and thrillers that feel a bit on the nose given her psychological state and voyeuristic inclinations. Like Jimmy Stewart’s character in “Rear Window,” she thinks she has witnessed a murder, and the question is whether she or the mystery will unravel first.
It should be a more interesting question. “The Woman in the Window” (which shares its title with a 1944 Fritz Lang noir) isn’t just another straight-to-streaming genre mediocrity. It’s a high-end genre mediocrity, with many impressive names attached. Bruno Delbonnel served as cinematographer. Danny Elfman wrote the score. Gary Oldman, Julianne Moore and Jennifer Jason Leigh are among those showing up at the front door, along with the gifted young actor Fred Hechinger.
The result is something that intermittently looks and sounds like a good movie without ever actually being one. This is not an uncommon phenomenon these days, as prestige television and studio filmmaking and the publishing industry converge to produce glossy commodities that are appealing partly because they resemble things that people remember liking at some point.
“The Woman in the Window” resembles other psychological thrillers about women in distress — including the recent Netflix original “Things Heard & Seen” — without being terribly thrilling or psychologically insightful. It would be especially gauche to spoil the plot because the plot is all there is: a mechanistic series of feints and rug-pulls leading up to a climactic action sequence that is remarkable for its sloppiness and lack of conviction.
Up until that point, Adams does what she can to bring coherence and credibility to a story that has none of its own. She has a knack for playing competent, smart characters under siege from inner demons and external pressures — women on the verge who are both sympathetic and a little scary — but her recent projects have exploited this skill rather than extending it. Wright, for his part, can’t summon the wit or the nastiness to make Anna’s ordeal disturbing or fun.
If you have exhausted the other available options, you can certainly pour yourself some merlot and mope around the living room while this movie plays in the background. We’ve all been there. But in my professional opinion you might at least consider getting out of the house.
The Woman in the Window
Rated R. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes. Watch on Netflix.