“The Woman in the Window” dispenses with an on-screen nod to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” early, explained by its protagonist’s love of old movies. Yet sitting through this baffling, long-on-the-shelf thriller starring Amy Adams, the clips mostly serve as a subtle cue you’d be better off watching those films instead of this poor reason to stay indoors.
Netflix stepped up to acquire the movie — which was originally slated for release in 2019, then delayed even before Covid intervened — suggesting a lack of faith from the studio behind it. After a peek into this “Window,” it’s easy to understand why.
Although streaming provides a logical venue for this small-scale film, it’s hard to think of a time or platform where this adaptation from British director Joe Wright (“Darkest Hour,” “Atonement”) would have felt satisfying, with an ill-considered, twisty finish that’s a sizable letdown from the already so-so material preceding it.
Like “Rear Window,” Adams’ Anna is cooped up at home, watching the other inhabitants of her street from the shadows. After meeting a new neighbor (Julianne Moore) and her 15-year-old son (Fred Hechinger), she catches a glimpse of what sure looks like foul play, causing her to wonder what happened.
Unlike James Stewart’s temporarily hobbled photographer, Anna suffers from agoraphobia, which prevents her from leaving her house. That situation is tied to her past, with her psychologist (Tracy Letts, who also adapted the screenplay from the novel by A.J. Finn) gently trying to coax her out, thus far to no avail.
If that sounds timely after a year of quarantine, as constructed it’s oddly not. Anna’s condition has also prompted placing her on medication that might make her a less-than-ideal witness, so the story becomes not just a whodunit but a question of whether it was done at all, and if she can believe her own senses as others doubt them.
The film certainly assembled a top-flight cast, with Gary Oldman as the other half of the couple that just moved in, and a “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” pre-union with Anthony Mackie and Wyatt Russell in smallish roles.
Still, this is mostly Adams’ show, and while she throws herself into Anna’s plight, the narrative contortions mostly provide an incentive to begin peering out your windows, wondering if the neighbors might be watching something that makes more sense.
Netflix obviously has different needs than a theatrical distributor, and the big names might be enough to make its investment pay off. In another footnote, the film was produced by Scott Rudin, who recently apologized and stepped back from upcoming projects following reports of his abusive behavior toward employees.
Lots of movies shifted to streaming during the pandemic, but “The Woman in the Window” feels more like a second-hand item than most. If nothing else, the film will likely leave those old enough to remember Hollywood’s golden-age thrillers, like its protagonist, nostalgically pining for them too.
“The Woman in the Window” premieres May 14 on Netflix.