Anna doesn’t get out much. In fact, she doesn’t get out at all.
The child psychologist suffers, ironically, from a crippling disorder herself: agoraphobia. She can’t leave home lest the anxiety overwhelm her. If she so much steps outside her New York City brownstone, she’s liable to pass out.
Her contacts these days are predictably few. She was forced to give up her practice after the condition reared up. Her husband and daughter, Olivia, don’t live with her anymore. Her only company is her cat, Punch—unless you count the wine she quaffs and the pills she pops. The only people she sees regularly are her own shrink, who dutifully visits her once a week; and her tenant, David, who lives in her basement.
Well, Anna does see her neighbors, too—albeit from behind her curtains. She watches them come, watches them go. Some might say she’s spying, but Anna would argue she’s just taking a healthy interest in the world outside.
Why, if she wasn’t such a conscientious neighbor, Anna might never have gotten involved with the Russells.
Anna meets 15-year-old Ethan first, when he drops off some lavender candles—a gift from his mom, he says. He seems quiet. Nervous. He mentions his dad’s a bit of a “tyrant with the TV,” and he tears up when he lets slip that he feels all alone. Anna wonders whether the boy’s trapped in an abusive home and promises that Ethan can visit her any time. A safe space, she says.
Ethan’s mom shows up next—just in the nick of time, too. Some kids had egged Anna’s house on Halloween. Anna opened the door to tell ‘em off and promptly fainted dead away. Next thing she knows, she wakes up, staring at a kindly face framed by flowing gray hair.
“You’re going to have to convince me you don’t need an ambulance,” the woman says.
Soon, the two women are talking over a bottle of wine, sharing stories and confiding, perhaps, a secret or two. Anna’s guest shows off a pair of earrings given to her by an old boyfriend. When Anna asks if her husband minds, the woman—Jane—says that Alastair probably doesn’t even notice.
“He has trust issues,” Jane says. And she worries how Alastair might be impacting her sensitive son.
Well. Anna may have agoraphobia. She may be drinking a little too much (and her doctor did warn her not to mix her meds with alcohol), but she knows enough to understand that kid’s in trouble. She watches everyone in the neighborhood, but she starts watching the Russells particularly closely.
Good thing, too. Otherwise she never would’ve seen Jane being stabbed to death. But when she reports the crime, why does everyone insist that Jane’s alive and well?
Our protagonist, Anna, is a deeply troubled woman. Her flaws are many. But she sincerely cares for Ethan, and she’s worried about him. She’s also determined to get to the bottom of Jane’s apparent murder, too. “Everyone else can move on, but I can’t,” she tells her husband over the phone.
But in terms of just sheer goodness, perhaps the best person in the film is Detective Little. While his partner looks at Anna and sees a crazy lady just wasting their time, Det. Little treats Anna with a great deal of compassion while still trying to suss out the truth. As he uncovers more of Anna’s story, his compassion grows. He’s an investigator first, of course. He rarely lets his compassion get in the way of his job. But he’s also the closest thing Anna has to a protector, too—and she desperately needs one.
One of the apartments that Anna watches is the site of frequent prayer meetings. We see one such gathering in action (a huge cross hangs behind a number of people sitting and talking in a circle), and Anna’s own psychiatrist (who knows all about Anna’s voyeurism) asks her how the group is getting along.
Jane doodles a picture of a woman while she and Anna talk, and the woman looks almost like a saint. The figure’s holding an animal and is surrounded by flowers, her head is framed by a halo-like sun. We hear a mention of Christmas. Some events take place during Halloween.
David, Anna’s basement tenant, has a female guest stay overnight one evening: Anna can hear her weep softly out of view. Later, she sneaks down and finds one of the woman’s earrings.
While Anna’s and Ethan’s relationship is platonic, Alastair storms over to Anna’s house one day and insinuates that her relationship with Ethan is improper, emphasizing that he’s just 15. Later, he tells someone else that Anna “lured” his son into her home.
When Anna tries to do some research on Jane Russell online, she mostly finds pictures of the 1950s actress Jane Russell—some of which feature her in risqué garb (or, at least, risqué for the 1950s).
There’s an insinuation that someone had an affair, seriously damaging a marriage.
While violence isn’t pervasive in this psychological thriller, it can be pretty extreme and even grotesque when it does arrive—like when someone is wounded with a garden implement or stabbed several times in the chest or smashed in the face with a wine bottle (leaving a piece of glass sticking out of the cheek). We see the aftermath of many of these wounds (sometimes bandaged, sometimes not): They’re not pretty.
The murder that Anna apparently sees features a big kitchen knife sticking out of the victim’s gut and a big splash of blood. The victim goes to the window, hand bloodied, and smears the window with red as she pleads for help.
Anna apparently tried to commit suicide sometime before the movie takes place. And those tendencies are not all in the past, either. She’s in a deeply unhealthy state of mind, and it’s clear (in one instance extremely clear) that she’s not out of the woods yet.
Someone slips in a puddle of blood and falls. Anna cuts her hand on a broken drinking glass. A man slaps a teenage boy. A cat hurts its paw. Someone sports a lot of bruises shortly after being attacked. A character has spent time in the clink for assault.
[Spoiler Warning] People die, too—in car crashes and tumbles from some pretty dizzying heights. One person admits to having pathologically murderous tendencies, describing how a victim took five minutes to die after she fell while the murderer soaked it all in.
The f-word is uttered nearly a dozen times, and it’s joined by eight s-words. We also hear “b–ch,” “d–n” and “h—.” God’s name is misused four times (once with the word “d–n”), and we hear three abuses of Jesus’ name.
Anna is not well. And even though her drugs are prescribed, they’re clearly not meant to be mixed with alcohol. Her husband cautions her about it. When Jane examines a bottle of Anna’s pills and watches Anna sip her wine, she says, “I’m pretty sure you’re not supposed to be taking these with alcohol.” But Anna quickly changes the subject. Anna’s psychiatrist discusses new medications under the assumption that she’s stopped mixing them with booze—clearly an unwise assumption at that.
This movie doesn’t glamorize this behavior, though. We see its detrimental impact on Anna’s emotional, intellectual and even physical well-being. She loses track of everything, from her phone to her cat to her sanity, and her substance use causes the police to seriously doubt her observations. Little wonder: Anna’s medications are known to trigger hallucinations in some people, especially if mixed with alcohol. She (and viewers) do indeed witness some hallucinogenic moments.
Someone allegedly spent time in a “meth camp,” while another person admits to getting into a fight at a bar. A hospitalized character is cautioned about getting addicted to pain killers.
We hear that someone violated his parole. Characters lie. Anna sneaks into her tenant’s apartment a couple of times—looking for David but staying to snoop.
Based on a 2018 book of the same name (and written by Daniel Mallory under the pseudonym A. J. Finn), The Woman in the Window is about as Hitchcockian as 21st-century thrillers come. Its conceit owes a lot (and pays explicit homage to) Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Anna’s condition (and the movie’s decentering psychological vibe) might remind some of Vertigo. And eventually it rises into a wild, violent, Psycho-like crescendo.
But, being the 21st-century thriller it is, The Woman in the Window comes with a lot more problematic content than Hitchcock ever used.
Admittedly, most of Hitchcock’s work was done during the days of the Hays Code (which stipulated that all films had to be ostensibly watchable by everyone). And while I doubt most would say Psycho should’ve ever been rated G, Hitchcock still managed to ratchet up thrills while keeping gore to a minimum. In the famous and (for its time) scandalous shower scene (wherein the film’s heroine meets a grisly demise), the camera never once showed a critical body part or a stabbing blow: A knife would flash; a bit of skin would be seen; chocolate syrup (a stand-in for blood in this black-and-white movie) would wash down the shower drain. But 1960 audiences thought they got an eyeful anyway.
Not good enough, modern audiences and moviemakers say. Real thrillers, apparently, have to shock desensitized viewers in evermore gratuitous ways. Even if a film is predominantly a psychological thriller, like this one, showing physical trauma is a requirement today, it seems. And if that’s not enough to garner an R rating, toss in a dozen f-words, too.
It’s too bad, because this thriller is stacked with A-list talent (including Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman and star Amy Adams), and it comes with enough twists and turns to keep even a grizzled movie reviewer like me interested. Woman in the Window didn’t need to sink to such bloody theatrics.
I don’t know what Hitchcock would say about this thriller—one that he so clearly inspired. But I do know what Plugged In would. And it’s not pretty either.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.