'The Woman in the Window': The Biggest Differences From Book to Movie
By John Boone
William Morrow / Netflix
After a tortured and torturously long journey to the big screen, The Woman in the Window -- 20th Century's adaptation of A.J. Finn's best-selling thriller -- instead lands on Netflix, met with glib curiosity and grim reviews. But to you, dear reader, I say: Go ahead, give her a stream. Because The Woman in the Window is so bad it's actually kind of sort of good, as opposed to so many movies of late that can't even muster up the appropriate badness to warrant a watch.
Amy Adams' performance is camp. The rest of the cast (Julianne Moore! Gary Oldman! Jennifer Jason Leigh!) delivers performances that are... unique! People start shouting their lines in the middle of scenes. The directing is batsh*t. The twists only sort of make sense, but who cares!
The plotting is largely the same as in the novel, a Rear Window-pastiche with a Girl on the Train-esque unreliable narrator: Anna Fox (Adams), an agoraphobe who whiles away her days mixing red wine and psych meds and watching the going ons of her neighbors. Which is how Anna sees the woman next door, Jane Russell (Moore), get killed. But when police arrive, Anna is introduced to the innocent-seeming Alistar Russell (Oldman) and his wife, the very-much-alive Jane Russell (Leigh). Did Anna make it all up in her head? Or was someone murdered?
Major spoilers for both the book and movie version of The Woman in the Window.
Though it stays true to the source material, The Woman in the Window is adapted with minor changes throughout. We're focusing on the bigger changes from text to screen, though, broken down below.
Anna the agoraphobe: Anna's agoraphobia is ratcheted up for the movie, so that the first time she even opens the door a crack, she has a panic attack and collapses. That's also when she first meets Moore's Jane Russell. In the book, Anna is able to overcome her affliction with a bit more ease and leave the house to investigate Jane.
The book also has a more thorough explanation for Anna's agoraphobia: She was in a car crash that left her husband (played onscreen by Anthony Mackie) and young daughter helpless in the snow. It was two days before they were found, and neither her husband nor daughter survived. And so, Anna is now unable to go outside. (The movie includes the fatal crash but leaves the connection to her agoraphobia somewhat more ambiguous.)
Be careful what you read on the internet: Anna gets catfished by the teenager next door not once but twice in the book. First, as a frequent visitor to an online forum for agoraphobes called Agora, where over the course of the book, she finds herself connecting with another user and sharing her own tragic past. Turns out, it was Ethan catfishing her to reveal her deepest secrets. In the movie, Anna mostly uses her computer to Duolingo and Facebook research.
In both the book and the movie, Anna receives an email with a photo of herself sleeping. In the book, the sender is listed as Jane Russell, though it's ultimately revealed to be from Ethan. In the movie, the email address is the more mysterious email@example.com. It is, of course, also Ethan (Fred Hechinger).
We need to talk about Ethan: The big twist remains the same from the book to the movie: Ethan is the killer. How that twist is revealed and the reason for his murderous streak, however, varies from page to screen. In the book, Ethan himself reveals his backstory to Anna: The Jane she met is actually his biological mother, Katherine, and Alistar and Jane Russell are his adopted parents. Katie was a drug addict when he was a baby but now wants to reconnect with him. He also reveals that he's attracted to older women, and the reason his family had to move is because he got caught watching one of his father's coworker's while she slept at night. He's taken to breaking in to watch Anna sleep, too.
In the movie, Anna's tenant, David (Wyatt Russell), tells her all this, having learnt it during a one-night stand with Katie. Katie is Ethan's mother, but Alistar is his birth father. She ran away when she was eight months pregnant, and Alistar found them years later in an "Oregon meth commune." Ethan pops in with a bloodied knife to explain that both Katie and Anna "had one job to do -- one f**king thing -- take care of your family." Because of what Katie put Ethan through, and because Anna was driving the car when her family was in the wreck, he's chosen them as deserving prey. That and he's a true-blue psychopath who likes watching women die. (In the movie, he didn't creep on his father's co-worker while she was sleeping, he pushed her off a six-story building.)
More David and less David: If you have Wyatt Russell, you're going to use Wyatt Russell. Movie David gets a beefed-up storyline about skipping town while on parole, although he does not, as the character does in the book, have sex with Anna. The biggest difference in the movie is that after delivering the aforementioned crucial exposition, David is stabbed by Ethan. David survives the initial stabbing, only to thwart Ethan's attack on Anna and get knifed down. In the book, David simply moves away. If you gotta go, you might as well get a death scene.
The ending: In the book, Ethan reveals his intentions to kill Anna and make it look like a suicide. She runs, they fight and end up on the rooftop in the rain. Before Ethan can murder her, she lies to him that she knows the identity of his biological father, distracting him with misinformation and embraces him in a hug -- then shoves him into the skylight, where he breaks the glass and falls downward.
In the movie, Anna actually is planning to die by suicide, and Ethan tells her he only wants to watch her die. Faking him out, she smashes a wine bottle over his head and flees. Likewise, he chases her to the roof, where he gouges her face with a garden tool. (It's gross!) When he pulls her toward the ledge to throw her over, Anna tackles him onto the skylight and slams down on him, sending him falling to his death.
The very, very end: The book ends six weeks after the killer climax, as a friend (a character that only exists on the page) helps Anna take her first willing steps outside. Notably, Anna has no plans to stop spying on her neighbors. In the movie, the epilogue takes place nine months later, as Anna moves out of her brownstone, stepping outside on her own and hailing a taxi to leave the city -- and her window -- behind.