In a film market dominated by remakes and rehashes, filmmakers seem to enjoy the game of blatant tips of the hat to their filmic forerunners. “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” as the saying goes, and in many recent cases, there’s a serious financial incentive to join a pack of successful imitators in hopes of being the most original of the bunch. Of course, instead of originality, one could always opt for the easter egg or wink-wink-nudge-nudge strategy. Because if you acknowledge your unoriginality, then that makes it ok, right? Right?
The Woman in the Window is not a bad film by any means. It is passable and even eminently watchable in a way that feels almost aggressive (“Watch me! I know you love this crap. WATCH ME!) It is a movie with a script edited into banality, overloaded with A-listers, and wrapped up with a title seemingly picked for its Search Engine Optimisation potential (“The Girl and/or Woman in/on the _____” has to be the most overused film/book marketing technique of the last decade). And for precisely those reasons, I feel like I have even more grievances with this film than I would a movie that aimed high and fell short of its goal. The Woman in the Window never seems to aspire any higher than to be just another passable movie.
The irony is that The Woman in the Window wants to pass itself off as an homage to Hitchock, that grandmaster of the unfamiliar, the uncanny, the mind-bending. However, one would never think to put “unfamiliar” in the same sentence as The Woman in the Window, especially since it’s not really a remake of Hitchcock, but more of a remake of the other hundred-million Hitchcock remakes. The Woman in the Window feels like something that never intended to create any actual unfamiliar, opting instead to signal its knowledge of the symbols and rhythms viewers tend to associate with the genre. Really, that was just my way of saying the film feels incredibly phony.
And yet there’s a certain appeal to a phony thriller, is there not? When every twist announces itself far in advance, one never feels exposed to the potential of an actually unpleasant surprise. It’s easy to watch The Woman in the Window or one of its ilk and experience them almost in the way you would one of your favorite comfort films. You know, one of those movies you’ve seen a hundred-thousand times since you were a kid (mine would have to be Home Alone) where the enjoyment of repeated viewings is no longer derived from experiencing the plot and characters, but from being able to predict (and probably lip-sync along with) every single moment. But that’s not really what you should be experiencing when watching a movie for the first time, is it? So why did my viewing of The Woman in the Window feel like I was ready to lip-sync along with almost every scene?
I’m just writing in circles now. This is what this kind of movie reduces me to. There are only so many ways to express how a film can hit all the right notes at the correct times, but it still feels completely hollow. It’s like trying to have an articulate discussion about a bag of Funions. Ugh. Let me try one last time.
The Woman in the Window is to Alfred Hitchcock what the “Symphony of Destruction” by Megadeth is to Ludwig von Beethoven. All the conventions of the medium are still in place (albeit updated for, let’s call them “alternative” sensibilities), and there is even an attempt at creating some intertextual communication. Unfortunately, that alone isn’t enough to make a piece watchable or listenable, and the road to mockery is paved with lofty intentions. What really makes attempts at homage either succeed or fail lies in the ability of the artists to reference their progenitors without stooping to petty theft and in their deftness in walking the line between honoring and mocking the legacy of those who came before them.
With that in mind, I was pretty baffled by the film’s effort to make overt Hitchcock references. It feels like the movie wants to be a modern Rear Window (with a hint of Vertigo thrown in), but it also doesn’t want to be held accountable for those comparisons. It feels like you’re watching the filmmakers get caught with their hand in Hitchcock’s cookie jar as they just stare at you with a guilty expression on their face.
Look, there’s nothing wrong with borrowing from the best. That’s just how everyone gets started. It just feels so wrong in a film stacked with enough big names that you can’t help but hope that there had to be some motivating factor other than money to draw them to the project. Maybe that’s pretty naive of me. If you want to see how to pay homage to the greats while still being unapologetically yourself, I’d recommend throwing on some Megadeth.