When confronted with a story as vigorously trashy as the one underlying The Woman in the Window - adapted from the 2018 novel by A.J. Finn, the pen name of Daniel Mallory, a book editor who very openly described how the book came about as a compendium of every trope in popular post-Gone Girl crime fiction, making it less an act of artistic inspiration than an accounting project* - the challenge becomes, how is a filmmaking team to make an actual movie of it? Leaning into the trashiness would probably be the best choice, but The Woman in the Window closed off on that option early on, assembling what looks on paper like one of the best cast and crews that any piece of 2019 Oscarbait could possibly daydream about having.

Oh right, that's the other thing. The Woman in the Window was meant to come out in October 2019, but it tested so extraordinarily badly that the release was delayed over half a year to accommodate extensive re-editing. It then became a victim of the COVID-19 pandemic, ending up missing its second release date by over a year before Fox 2000 Pictures, as the final act of its existence before being shuttered by its corporate overseers at the Walt Disney Company, dumped it off on Netflix. Which if nothing else is a good home for it, because if there's any company in the contemporary American film landscape that knows how what to do with terrible thrillers made with inexplicably overqualified casts...

And that gets us to the punchline of all of the above, since whatever the creators of this film decided to do to work their way around the garish twists and turns of the story, it didn't work. For all I know, the version test audiences saw was even more bizarre and unacceptable than what we now all get to stream in boggle-eyed disbelief; at any rate, the final cut of The Woman in the Window certainly feels like something that got overworked in the editing room and ended up like a tough piece of badly burned meat in the process. As for what they decided to do, basically it was everything: instead of being a nice piece of nasty little trash, the movie is the sprawling, extraordinarily polished super-trash that can only happen from talented people exercising literally no discipline and just hammering at the material from every possible angle, leading to something that feels far more unhinged and genuinely insane than the honest pulp version of this material would have done.

At the very least, it's memorably sloppy. The basic version of this is that it's Rear Window - so overtly so that in one scene, a giant flatscreen TV is showing a clip from that film, blurry in the foreground, and for some reason advancing frame by frame rather than playing at full speed (Spellbound also cameos, as does the non-Hitchcock film Laura, and every time it comes across as an embarrassingly desperate appeal to authority). Anna Fox (Amy Adams) is a child psychologist who has, of late, become gripped by agoraphobia, separated from her husband and child, and regularly meeting with her own psychiatrist, Dr. Landy (the great playwright Tracy Letts, who also wrote the screenplay, and made a real fucking hash of it, I am confused and sorry to report), in a terrifyingly empty, huge apartment in New York. She has a renter who lives in the basement, David (Wyatt Russell), and she also has an unhealthy fascination with the new across-the-street neighbors, the Russells - a fascination that grows all the more intense when she's convinced that she sees Alistair Russell (Gary Oldman) kill his wife Jane (Julianne Moore). But when she reports this to the police, in the forms of Detectives Little (Brian Tyree Henry) and Norelli (Jeanine Serralles), it only ends up calling into question whether her medically inadvisable combination of pills and alcohol has left her capable of parsing reality from fantasy, when Jane Russell turns out to be very much alive, and now played by Jennifer Jason Leigh.

The worst one can say about this is that it is extraordinary trite, but of course that's exactly what makes it go down easy; it is chemically modulated to be irresistible just in the same way that McDonald's has calculated down to the grain of salt and the tenth of a degree of oil temperature how to cook their fries.Β  Somehow, in the execution,Β The Woman in the Window has become a great deal worse than trite, largely because of how, just, much there is in the film, from the acting to the music to the editing. It all starts at the top, very obviously, with director Joe Wright having clearly approached this with some kind of extremely arch strategy in mind, though what remains of that strategy is almost impossible to say through the choppy maze of editing and other attempts at post-production wizardry. There are a few shots, including the only genuinely interesting image in the film (a car in a snowstorm that's also inside a dining room), where it's clear that the director of the 2012 Anna Karenina was behind all of this, mostly in how he treats rooms as theatrical spaces to parade his actors in depth; but the most visible style tends to come in the form of very strange flurries of cutting and jarring changes in shot scale. The was-it-a-murder scene is certainly the gaudiest part of the whole, not least because there is, for no obvious reason, a single shot that gets painted in CGI blood, but in general, the film's attempts to visualise Anna's possible mental breakdown feel like they're relying on the sheer quantity of choices being made in the directing, editing, cinematography, and sound design to put over some feeling of all-purpose "intensity", rather than obliging those choices to point in the same direction. The other big constant in the film is its clumsy depiction of Anna's phone conversations with her husband, voiced by Anthony Mackie, which all sound like they were recorded years after the rest of the film, and occur over aimless montages unrelated to the content of their conversation. There is a reason for this, but it's not a good enough reason to excuse the jaw-dropping amateur quality of the execution.

The lack of any sense that the choices are lining up in any direction extends to the acting, which is full of twitchy, hammy, screaming melodrama in which no two members of the cast feel like they're in the same movie. Moore survives this completely intact: her decision for how to make possible-hallucination Jane a skittish bundle of nerves feels perfectly organic, with all of her gestures rolling down from her shoulders to the tips of her fingers in nice arcs that go well with the manic giggling and stop-start rhythms in her voice. But she's barely in the film at all. The rest of the cast is basically just chomping own on the scenery indiscriminately, with Oldman and Adams clearly doing the worst work, in that order. I am in fact not convinced that either of them have ever been worse (though that's a higher bar for Oldman to clear - still, he is trying extremely hard to clear it, with all these lip-smacking, sneering line deliveries) and for Adams to have this accidentally come out directly after Hillbilly Elegy implies some very distressing things about whatever phase of her career we're watching unfold.

Hell, even the musical score, by Danny Elfman, feels like it suffers from the "just fucking try anything" mentality that grips the film: he's using a grab bag of thriller clichΓ©s from a span of decades, and mixing them together practically down to the level of the individual measure, so we might have, for example, synth drones in a smoky '80s register pop up almost as soon as menacing Hitchcockian strings have faded away. It's a whole lot of music - it's a whole lot of everything in the movie, really - and at least it shoves you in the right direction for the thrills to land. But it feels just as wild and inarticulate as anything in Adams's bug-eyed, goblin-toothed leers that she's using to evoke her character's pill-driven madness, or in the zany high-speed cutting. Honestly, outside of Moore's lifesaver of a performance, the closest that anything comes to working well is Bruno Delbonnel's cinematography, which uses contrasting colors and strong blankets of rosy pink and incandescent yellow to create a kind of low-key naturalist giallo vibe. It makes as much sense as anything in The Woman in the Window, about which the best thing I can say overall is that it might be a stunning mess that has turned a sordid little crime thriller in a catastrophic blur of illogical antihuman behavior, but it is a very memorable mess.




*He also was later shown to have lied about several extremely significant details in his personal life for professional gain - he invented tragic deaths for his mother and still-living brother, most tastelessly - which feels like nothing more than we should expect of a man who considered it a sign of his cleverness that his debut novel was essentially a complex spider web of plagiarism.