Initially, I skipped over The Woman in the Window while listlessly searching Netflix for what to watch next; it looked too much like Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window, with a bit of What Lies Beneath tossed in for spice. The former I’d already seen two different versions of, so initially, I wrote it off. On coming back to it a week later, however, I think I judged this adaptation of an A.J. Watts novel of the same name for the wrong reasons. Let’s get into it:
Anna Fox (Amy Adams) is a troubled shut-in with agoraphobia and extreme anxiety. Separated from her husband (Anthony Mackie), she spends most of her days alone, with occasional therapy sessions and appearances from the tenant she sublets to (Wyatt Russel) for company. She calls her husband and daughter (Mariah Bozeman) every day, but most of the time, it’s just her, her cat, and an endless stream of detective movies. She drinks (though she’s not supposed to) and she watches the world from her window. One day, she watches a new family, the Russels, move in across the street. After they settle in, she’s paid a visit by Ethan Russel (Fred Hechinger), the Russels’ noticeably neurodivergent teenage son.
As a child psychologist, Anna immediately feels protective of Ethan, sensing that his home life might not be so great. She offers him refuge, should he ever need it, without hesitation. Later, she meets Ethan’s mother, Jane Russel (Julianne Moore), a vibrant, artistic free spirit with whom Anna immediately strikes up an easy friendship. So, when she sees Jane murdered through the window of the apartment, and calls the police only to meet an entirely different woman claiming to be Jane Russel (Jennifer Jason Leigh), she takes it upon herself to untangle the mystery and protect Ethan.
As always, Amy Adams is a powerhouse of an actress. Anna’s anxiety is palpable, and it’s often easy to feel what she’s feeling. It’s easy to cheer her on as she uncovers pieces of the mystery, though that goes without saying for the majority of Amy Adams’s characters.
Unfortunately, the reveal just kinda sucks.
It turns out, Ethan was the killer all along, not his father, the stern and domineering Alistair Russel (Gary Oldman). Ethan is the stereotypical low-empathy sociopath that horror and thriller movies just love to trot out, and he really likes killing women just to watch them die. He adjusted his personality around Anna to earn her trust, then let her myriad of mental problems act as the perfect cover up for any inconsistencies.
No matter how much we advocate for compassion toward the neurodivergent and mentally ill, Hollywood can’t seem to let go of its worn-out ideas about how “scary” mental illness is, and how low-empathy people are ticking time bombs of depravity. And this movie isn’t even clever about it. If Alistair knew his son was that troubled and was planning to send him away anyway, why wouldn’t he warn Anna? Sure, he tells her to stay away from Ethan, but in a way that makes himself seem incredibly suspect and like is Anna the one putting Ethan in danger, not the other way around. Mental illness can be dangerous to those around someone with it, but it seems like that’s the only sort of mental illness representation we see in horror, and it’s so lazy in this movie it feels especially insulting.
Elaine L. Davis is the eccentric, Goth historian your parents (never) warned you about. Hailing from the midwestern United States, she grew up on ghost stories, playing chicken with the horror genre for pretty much all of her childhood until finally giving in completely in college. (She still has a soft spot for kid-friendly horror.)Her favorite places on Earth are museums, especially when they have ghosts.