For this lagniappe episode of the podcast, Boomer, Brandon, and Alli discuss the 2019 Netflix psych-thriller Fractured, starring Sam Worthington as a heavily concussed dad in crisis.
00:55 Tatie Danielle (1990) 05:45 The Frog Prince (1971) 08:55 Licorice Pizza (2021) 14:15 Nightmare Alley (2021) 16:45 Encanto (2021) 21:30 The Woman in the Window (2021) 24:15 Dave Made a Maze (2017) 26:35 Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021) 29:10 Fresh (2022) 30:25 The Covenant (2006)
Of course, of all the big-name Hollywood filmmakers you’d expect to thrive in spite of COVID-era production troubles, Steven Soderbergh has been thriving the brightest. Three decades into his career, Soderbergh still conveys a playfulness and adaptability that have got to be near impossible to maintain in an industry that’s increasingly hostile towards anything that’s not pre-established, multi-billion-dollar IP. While most legendary auteurs have struggled to get no-brainer projects off the ground, Soderbergh remains a scrappy, resourceful innovator who’s still making exciting work at the margins of the industry – the kind of movies you’d expect out of a director in their twenties with something to prove. Adding the circumstances of the COVID pandemic to his already unstoppable filmmaking routine is just another obstacle for Soderbergh to navigate his way around, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was genuinely delighted by the challenge. Two years into the pandemic, he’s already made and distributed three feature films, making it look disgustingly easy while most of the Hollywood machine feels like it’s still on pause. I’m halfway convinced that he’ll be up to four COVID-era features by the time I finish typing this paragraph.
Although Soderbergh has already delivered other experiments in COVID-era cinema (all for HBO Max), his latest dispatch, Kimi, is the first that feels like it was produced during the pandemic. While Let Them All Talk & No Sudden Move would’ve felt right at home in any other year of Soderbergh’s post-“retirement” era, Kimi directly acknowledges the ongoing pandemic and integrates it into its narrative. It initially plays like Soderbergh making an easy exercise out of updating Rear Window for the COVID era. Zoë Kravitz stars as a low-level surveillance tech who reviews and solves technical issues for an Alexa-style personal assistant gadget called Kimi. An agoraphobe whose anxiety about leaving the apartment is only worsened by the pandemic, she’s limited almost all of her in-person social interactions to physical communication with the tenants of the apartment building opposite her window. Given how most COVID-era productions have shifted to screenlife thrillers contained to laptops and single-location living spaces, you’re trained to expect the entire movie to play out in this one beautiful, but restrictive Seattle apartment. Instead, Soderbergh turns that familiar set-up into an excuse for a totally Unsane remix of The Net. While working her surveillance data-collection job, Kravitz discovers evidence of a violent crime. Reporting it puts her in danger of suffering a similar fate of the victim she’s trying to save, as the corporate suits at Kimi will literally kill to prevent the resulting public scandal. So, she has to go on the run outside her apartment to escape violent, corporate thugs, which is really just an excuse for Soderbergh to play with the unique anxieties of what it feels like to exist in public right now.
The brilliant thing about Kimi is that it feels like a throwback to mid-budget tech thrillers of the 1990s like Sneakers and The Net—the exact kind of movies that most Hollywood studios neglect to make anymore—even though it has distinctly modern sensibilities in its technophobic satire & production circumstances. The film’s paranoia about the illusion of online privacy, its dual use of the Kimi tech as both a weapon & a punchline, and Kravitz’s e-girl haircut are all firmly rooted in modern internet culture, but they’re treated with a retro Hollywood thriller sensibility in the film’s plotting. Meanwhile, Soderbergh is having fun playing with his filmmaking toys, as always. He shoots Kravitz’s nervous escape on the streets of Seattle with a sped-up skateboard video aesthetic that recalls the anxious discomforts of Unsane. He stunt-casts comedians David Wain & Andy Daily in bit dramatic roles that recall similar casting pranks in The Informant. Most importantly, he continues his reign of filming the ugliest, drabbest office settings in the biz, depicting our current corporate hellscape as a fluorescent-lit nightmare we’d all be lucky to wake up from at any second. If there’s anything that unifies Soderbergh’s filmmaking sensibilities beyond his continued playfulness in craft, it’s that all his films maintain a sternly anti-Capitalist political bent – capturing the cruelty, tastelessness, and absence of Life in our soul-drained modern world like no other filmmaker working today. It’s all very honest about the exact corporate power structures that are crushing the few good things left in this world, while also recalling the phoniest blockbuster thrillers of Hollywood past. Exciting stuff.
I have no idea how much longer COVID will continue to disrupt the production logistics of traditional Hollywood filmmaking. I’ve stopped trying to predict the future after these last two years of watching a global health crisis get unnecessarily prolonged in a game of profit-over-people politics. Still, I can say with full confidence that Soderbergh will continue to make movies as long as he’s alive on this planet, and his movies will continue to confront those exact misanthropic politics for what they are. They’ll also continue to be wonderfully entertaining; he’s always dependable for that, even if his modes of professional survival are forever in flux.
I’m sure there are plenty of real-life biker gangs that have been a terrifying menace in whatever communities they rumble through, but I feel like most of my exposure to that culture has been sanitized & defanged to the point where I don’t see them as a threat. From Marlon Brando in The Wild Ones to Vanilla Ice in Cool as Ice, there’s a long history of retro biker gangs that look tough on the screen but never actually follow through on their threats. Likewise, most bikers I see in the streets these days appear to be bored men in midlife crisis, trying to muster up some Leather Daddy fashionability instead of just plain Dad Vibes. Apparently, that de-emphasized biker menace bothered notorious genre filmmaker Walter Hill as well, presumably after growing up in the Marlon Brando era of biker-with-a-heart-of-gold dramas as a teenager. Hill seemingly made an entire feature film just to make bikers feel genuinely dangerous again, terrorizing a 1980s audience with revamped black-leather bullies from his 1950s youth.
Streets of Fire is a 50s teen-delinquent throwback sleazed up with 80s music video neons. Self-described as “a rock & roll fable” set in “another time and another place,” it exists in a make-believe limbo that covers both decades at once – the same neon-noir aesthetic as Alan Rudolph’s Trouble in Mind. It’s basically The Wild Ones sped up for MTV sensibilities, with music-video crosscutting and a constant, aggressive drumbeat keeping the audience’s blood pumping like mad while its rabid biker gangs raise Hell up & down the streets of the fictional city of “Richmond” (read: Chicago). Bikers get away with stripping innocent citizens nude in the street and dragging them across the asphalt trailing behind their roaring bikes as they smash every storefront window in their vicious path, but they cross a line when they kidnap a famous rock ‘n roll singer in the middle of her sold-out concert. The heist mission to rescue that singer from biker-gang territory nearly burns the entire city to the ground, and it’s legitimately terrifying in a way few—if any—1950s biker films were allowed to be.
The only thing that really slows Streets of Fire down is its dead-eyed lead, Michael Paré, which is bizarre since the rest of the cast is packed with exciting, charismatic people you always love to see. Willem Dafoe is a gorgeous sex goblin as the main biker villain, recalling his leather-clad brute performance in Kathryn Bigelow’s The Loveless. Likewise, Diane Lane’s performance as the kidnapped rock ‘n roll singer feels like an MTV-era update to her persona in The Fabulous Stains, right down to the red & black color story of her wardrobe. Rick Moranis is maybe the only main player who’s cast against type as the tough-guy music manager who hires a vigilante to rescue his missing talent, playing the part of a macho bully that’s usually reserved for men three times his size. Paré does not bring much to the table as the mercenary hero in contrast. He’s generically handsome, but he’s got no personality to speak of. Walter Hill directs every single character to deliver action hero one-liners in amphetamine-rattled noir speak, and Paré’s the only one who mumbles his way through them like a long-lost Stallone brother.
While Paré is a major liability as the narrative center of attention, Hill’s high-style visual theatrics more than compensate for his lack of screen presence. Flaming motorcycles, S&M butcher outfits, neon crosslighting, and a music video performance of the soft-rock hit “I Can Dream About You” all violently combine to make a singular genre picture – one that revitalizes a long-subdued subculture that’s rarely as tough as it looks. For the record, Cool as Ice is also a high-style delight; I just wouldn’t say that Vanilla Ice was exactly “scary” in it. Meanwhile, Willem Dafoe is a goddamn nightmare.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the erotic thriller’s migration from movie theaters to streaming services. Unless you’re lucky enough to catch French exports like Knife+Heart or Double Lover at a local film festival, most modern audiences’ exposure to the erotic thriller genre is going to be through straight-to-streaming releases like Netflix’s Deadly Illusions or Amazon Prime’s The Voyeurs. If there’s been a low-level resurgence of the erotic thriller in recent years, it’s already reached its direct-to-video nadir, where streaming services are playing the part of late-night Skinemax broadcasts while sex has completely evaporated from public screenings at the American multiplex. There’s no clearer indicator of this decline in theatrical exhibitionism than Disney’s handling of the upcoming film Deep Water. Originally planned for wide theatrical distribution under the 20th Century Fox banner, Deep Water is a mainstream erotic thriller with legitimate movie stars that’s now going to be quietly dumped onto Hulu, as if Disney is ashamed to let their freak flag fly in broad daylight. What makes that last-minute change in distribution model so symbolic of the state of the erotic thriller is that Deep Water was directed by Adrian Lynne, whose heyday titlesFatal Attraction, Indecent Proposal, and 9 1/2 Weeks essentially defined the genre. There used to be space in the theatrical market for Adrian Lynne’s mainstream erotic thrillers to become widely discussed watercooler movies; now they’re something we’re supposed to enjoy in private with the blinds closed so no one can see our shame.
One major blow to the erotic thriller’s theatrical distribution was the box office failure of the 1994 Jamie Lee Curtis vehicle Mother’s Boys, a financial loss that nearly obliterated Miramax. That bomb was one of Miramax’s first major releases after its mid-90s Disney buyout, the exact kind of studio gobbling that’s now allowing Disney to hide Adrian Lyne’s latest on a subsidiary streaming service. Mother’s Boys may have appeared to be a dime-a-dozen in its heyday, but I honestly think contemporary audiences missed out on a great time at the movies. It should have been a hit. Yet even this traditional erotic thriller blurs the lines between what’s theatre-worthy vs. what’s straight-to-video content in its own way. It’s high-style 90s trash packed with the kinds of recognizable movie stars & over-active camera trickery that are usually too big for direct-to-video budgets. At the same time, it’s also directly inspired by real-life Betty Broderick tabloid headlines (recognizable even in Curtis’s spiky blonde haircut), positioning it as a major studio mockbuster of the made-for-TV “movie event” A Woman Scorned. Personally, I found it to be more explosively entertaining than even the revenge-pranks half of A Woman Scorned: Part 1, but it’s still very much playing around with a psychotic-ex thriller template that’s been reserved for television broadcasts & streaming services since the erotic thriller was pushed out of theaters. To put it plainly, Mother’s Boys is the Lifetime thriller perfected.
Jamie Lee Curtis stars as an unhinged, sadistic mother who terrorizes her kids & husband (an architect, naturally) after abruptly disappearing for three years. She wears outrageous couture clothing, enjoys martinis in her bubble baths, and treats herself to unwanted sexual advances on her still-healing, single-father ex just for the pleasure of watching him squirm. The traditional erotic thriller elements are in watching that poor man (Peter Gallagher) resist the temptation of backsliding into their old red-hot sexual dynamic at the expense of the much healthier romance he’s sparked up in her absence. Like many a Michael Douglas character, it’s his job to resist her sexual charms and then violently punish her for her transgressions in a grand display of Hays Code morality. Those plot machinations almost feel like obligatory genre markers that (failed to) make the movie easily marketable, though, since most of its central drama involves Curtis’s relationship with her titular boys. While her estranged husband must resist her offers of mind-blowing sexual favors, their oldest son must resist her training to become a little sociopath molded in her image. It’s bad enough when she’s manipulating the three children to turn against their father’s new fiancée (mostly by bribing them with junk food & Gameboys), but by the time she’s purposefully traumatizing the oldest so he becomes mommy’s little sociopath, the movie transcends the limitations of the erotic thriller genre to become something uniquely upsetting. It’s fabulous, reprehensible stuff.
If there was any positive outcome in the shift from the theatrical erotic thriller template to its made-for-TV equivalent, it’s that the Lifetime movies tend to center the psychotic woman’s POV instead of her male victim’s. If Fatal Attraction was a two-night “movie event” like A Woman Scorned instead of a traditional theatrical release, Glenn Close would’ve been the main-POV character instead of Michael Douglas, and it likely would’ve been better off for it. Even though Mother’s Boys was designed for theatrical distribution, it was way ahead of the curve there. Curtis’s psycho-wife monster remains a kind of volatile enigma the entire runtime (what exactly was she up to for the three years when she abandoned her family?), but her over-the-top sexual & vengeful theatrics are given a lot more attention than Gallagher’s exhausted response to them. Direct-to-video erotic thrillers also usually have more freedom to dip their toes into outright softcore pornography than their theatrical foremothers, since they aren’t subject to the browbeating of the MPAA. I’d gladly sacrifice that Playboy Magazine-level titillation to be able to see movies as deliriously trashy as Mother’s Boys on the big screen again, though. Our current theatrical distribution market is a little too sanitized & predictable, more concerned with selling audiences on the nostalgic comforts of familiar IP than testing the boundaries of their good sense & good taste. We need to get a little more comfortable watching our horned-up, amoral trash out in public again. It makes for a fun night out, even if we all rush home to shower directly after.
As is tradition, we’re spending the bulk of this January looking back at our favorite movie discoveries of the past calendar year, reducing hundreds of hours of thoughtful engagement with art to bite-size, shareable lists that will be forgotten by next month at the latest. That year-in-review listmaking process always tends focus on The New and The Novel, prioritizing discussion of movies that we’ve only seen once or twice without allowing them much time to saturate. Something that might be slipping through the cracks in that ritual is the value of the rewatch, noting what movies climbed in our esteem in years-later reappraisal. Personally, the movie that most improved in rewatch for me last year was the 1971 rodent-attack horror Willard. I had remembered Willard being painfully dull when I first saw it about fifteen years ago, likely because I was comparing it against the over-the-top mayhem of its Crispin Glover remake in the nü-metal 2000s. On revisit, I was horrified to discover how much I now relate to the titular rat-training avenger. Willard just wants the freedom to be lazy & enjoy his go-nowhere hobby (training an army of loyal, bloodthirsty rats), snapping back at the people in his life who pester him with chores & busy work. It’s Cinema of the Hassled, a disturbingly relatable mindset in an era when we’re pressured to remain constantly busy at work & home even though the world is crumbling around us, with most outlets for social leisure taken off the table in the greater interest of public health. Fortunately, I cannot weaponize my collection of thrift-store DVDs to attack my enemies on command, so the world is safe (for now), but I still saw a little too much of myself in Willard’s desire to shrink away from the world in his solitary, niche-interest hobbies without having to suffer the hassles of his daily responsibilities.
I won’t say that I “saw myself” in the 1976 thriller The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane—as it’s populated with the most reprehensible scum to ever grace the silver screen—but it did remind me a lot of Willard‘s Cinema of the Hassled tensions. In the film, a teenage Jodie Foster just wants to keep to herself in her beautiful house, but all the creeps of the world (cops, rapists, busybodies) keep barging in to disturb her solitude. They deserve the worst and they get it, fucking around and subsequently finding out, as Foster poisons the rude-mannered intruders and buries them in her spacious back yard. Contemporary marketing for the film didn’t know how to deal with the moral ambiguity of a teenager murdering adults simply for being a bother. Foster’s framed as a kind of Bad Seed serial-killer brat on the promotional poster, as if she were killing for sport. In truth, she’s doing her best to live a peaceful, solitary life – educating herself in academic subjects like Dickinson, Chopin, and the Hebrew language instead of wasting her time on more traditional, narrow-minded schooling. Her parents are out of the picture, but she can clearly take care of herself despite being in her early teens, asking “How old do you have to be before people start treating you like a person?”. It’s only the adult authority figures who violate that personhood—barging into her home uninvited to impose their will on her like schoolyard bullies—who suffer her delicate wrath, so there isn’t much sympathy to go around for her victims. It’s the ultimate Latchkey Kid movie, really, in that Foster is a fully autonomous child who would be perfectly capable of taking care of herself without any adult intervention. In fact, the adult intervention in her life is almost purely villainous, an obstacle for her living her best life, free of needless hassle.
In the 2003 remake of Willard, Crispin Glover repeatedly shrieks “This is my house!” at the adult bullies who scheme to hassle him out of his family home. My favorite thing about the original Willard is how uncomfortably relatable I found Willard as a character; my favorite thing about the remake is how much Crispin Glover is an absolute freak. I’m only bringing that up here to note that a baby-faced Jodie Foster also repeatedly demands “Get out of my house” in her own Cinema of the Hassled thriller, but delivers it with a much more believable, authoritative self-assertion. She very well may have been the greatest child actor of all time, conveying an intelligence & emotional maturity that’s hard to find in precocious theatre kids who don’t know how to play to the camera. Unfortunately, that perceived maturity often landed her in incredibly risqué, morally shaky movies. The same year that Foster starred in Taxi Driver as a teenage prostitute, The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane asked her to fight off the unwanted sexual advances of a fully adult Martin Sheen (playing a small-town, trust-fund creep) and to engage in a consensual, onscreen sexual relationship with a teen boy several years her senior. The film’s teen-romance dynamic would not survive the rabid Age Gap Discourse™ that seems to be constantly chewing up & spitting out new movie releases on social media hellpits like Twitter these days, but it’s mostly sweet in its portrayal. Still, the film asked that Foster appear nude onscreen in the movie’s only sex scene, and her older, adult sister had to act as a body double to protect her from that exploitation. Even as a one-of-a-kind talent in real life, Foster was hassled by a grotesque movie industry that did not have her well-being in mind. Thankfully, it seems her family was around to protect her as best as they could, and she didn’t have to poison any lecherous movie producers and bury them on the backlot (that we know of, anyway).
The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane is incredibly uncomfortable, but it’s also incredibly well-written & performed. It’s like a deranged stage play that got out of hand and became a movie by mistake, with sharply skilled actors verbally sparring in a single location for most of its unbearably tense runtime. That single location happens to be a teenage Jodie Foster’s living room, which she’ll politely ask you to leave several times before her demands for privacy get more volatile & lethal. Unlike original-flavor Willard, I don’t expect to revisit this film too many times in the future, even though I appreciated it just as much as a Cinema of the Hassled thriller. Foster’s hasslers are just too goddamn skeezy for the film to invite multiple rewatches. There are few people out there more frequently & grotesquely hassled than a teenage girl, and Foster clearly had to put up with a ton of undue bullying onscreen & off as a precocious kid with a talent for playing mature-for-her-age hardasses. At least in this case you get to watch her take calm, level-headed revenge on those bullies, may they rest in shit.
There are a lot of things that they just don’t make like they used to. Cadbury creme eggs, Star Warses, western democracy. But one thing that’s still reliably chugging along through the same well-worn, comfortable ruts that the covered wagons made, and that’s the small-town crime thriller. Now with more Eric Bana!
Bana stars in The Dry as Aaron Falk, a federal agent in Australia who returns to his fictional hometown of Kiewarra, some twenty years after he was run out of town by locals who believed the then-teenaged Aaron (Joe Klocek) had something to do with the drowning death of his girlfriend, Ellie (Bebe Bettencourt). Although Kiewarra is now suffering economically due to the titular intense drought, flashbacks show a verdant river and fields as backdrop to the youthful friendship between Aaron and Luke (played by Martin Dingle-Wall as an adult and Sam Corlett in the past), as well as Luke’s then-girlfriend, Gretchen (Claude Scott-Mitchell). Unfortunately, it’s the tragic death of Luke and his family that’s brought Aaron home after all this time, in an apparent murder suicide at the hands of his old friend.
Asked by Luke’s parents to stay and investigate further in order to prove their son’s innocence, Aaron finds himself the object of scorn and scrutiny by Ellie’s older brother Grant (Matt Nable), who still believes Aaron got off scot-free for his sister’s murder, as well as Ellie’s now cognitively challenged father Mal (William Zappa), who confusedly accuses Aaron for covering up for his son, not recognizing that the man he’s accusing is the Falk boy. He also reunites with Gretchen (Genevieve O’Reilly), and the two reconnect while he investigates. While reviewing the files of Luke’s wife, Aaron discovers “Grant?” written on the back of a document, which leads him into conflict with Ellie’s family once again.
Most of the reviews for this film label it a “slow burn,” and it’s definitely that, with an emphasis on “slow.” This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it also wasn’t really what I was in the mood for when I was finally able to set aside some time to screen this one. There are no molds being broken here; nothing ever starts to get meta or strays from the conventional. It’s your standard Protagonist Archetype 7C (Law Enforcement Officer, Federal) with modifier 32-A (Chip on the Shoulder) sigma (adolescent tragedy), in setting 3 (small town) B (where they grew up) dash 5 (in economic crisis) dash B (due to inclement weather), where Kappa (a homicide) has occurred, involving Pi-3 (their childhood friend). The plot is solid and hangs together. It’s nothing new, but if this is the thing that’s up your alley, then you will enjoy it.
Normally, when we apply the descriptor “paint by numbers,” which certainly applies here, we’re talking about something with mass market appeal and application. This film is more of a masterpiece by numbers, where your end result is something that’s good enough to be truly proud of, or even be turned into a 1000-piece puzzle. I wish I could speak more highly of it, because what normally renders the more run-of-the-mill versions of these films to the heap of forgotten mediocrity is that they have no staying power beyond their twist, but this one is gorgeously shot, thoughtfully edited, and masterfully acted. You can really feel the heat radiating off of the ground in draught-addled Kiewarra, but it’s not enough to elevate this into the pantheon of its genre. It’s above average but does not exceed expectations.
For this lagniappe episode of the podcast, Britnee and Brandon discuss A Woman Scorned: The Betty Broderick Story (1992), a three-hour, two-movie “event” that earned notoriety through frequent re-run broadcasts on the Lifetime network.
02:00 Fatal Charm (1990) 07:30 The Deadly Look of Love (2000) 14:30 Censor (2021) 18:35 The Mad Women’s Ball (2021)
22:05 A Woman Scorned (1992) 39:32 Her Final Fury (1992)
Rose Plays Julie is a subtle, well-made movie built on subtle, well-played performances. A psychological thriller about a young veterinary student’s increasingly dark mission to uncover her place in the world as an unwanted adopted child (and, more to the point, about the generational trauma of sexual assault), it has all the potential in the world to swerve into a sensationalist rape revenge tale with a violently heightened sense of style. Instead, it keeps its mood low-key & pained, allowing the Greek tragedy of its doomed characters’ downward trajectory to quietly unfold at its own pace. It’s one of those thoughtful, tasteful indie chillers that I appreciate in terms of intent & craft but only help clarify my personal disinterest in subtlety & restraint. I wish I could appreciate this quiet, finely calibrated psych-thriller on its own terms, but instead its coming-of-age fury & vet school setting just made me wish I was watching the explosive coming-of-age cannibal horror Raw instead. That’s just the kind of audience I am, to my shame.
It’s okay that Rose Plays Julie works better as an exercise in craft than as a cathartic, stylistically expressive genre film. It’s explicitly about performance in a lot of respects, which shines a direct spotlight on the actors in three central roles of Daughter (Ann Skelly), Mother (Orla Brady), and Rapist (Aiden Gillen). Gillen puts in the same raspy creep performance he’s been delivering as a manner of routine since he was cast in Game of Thrones, but the drama is more centralized on the women he’s hurt anyway. The mother is an actress by trade, shown avoiding her traumatic past by getting lost in her roles on period dramas & vampire movies. The daughter—the surviving result of a rape—is an actress by choice, taking on her imagined persona of the name on her birth certificate (paired with an unconvincing wig) as an undetectable alias while pursuing revenge against the mother’s assailant, her “father”. The tension between them is a feel-bad triangle of gloom that each actor ably performs through several layers of self-protective artifice. The avenging violence that breaks that tension is just as dejectedly sad, providing little emotional catharsis for the generations of hurt at the film’s core – presumably on purpose.
To wish Rose Plays Julie was more expressive or cathartic would be wishing for a more divisive, if not outright irresponsible kind of filmmaking that it’s just not interested in indulging. This is a very serious film about a very serious subject, and I’m sure there’s a larger audience out there who’d prefer that sober approach to genre storytelling over what’s usually offered. Personally, I could only appreciate the craft of its individual performances rather than the larger purpose they served. It’s a terrible thing to admit, but if it were even 10% trashier or flashier in its delivery, I’d probably be much more enthusiastic about where it fits in the modern revenge thriller canon.
I’m exhausted. The joyless drudgery of life & work in this era of never-ending health pandemics and hurricanes has completely drained me. I’m most aware of this general, bottomless exhaustion when I’m trying to indulge in the few simple pleasures that used to be fun, frivolous hobbies – most notably discussing movies with strangers on the internet. I used to have an endless enthusiasm for sharing & combating opinions on hot-topic movie releases online, but lately the most effort I can muster is recording my movie takes on this self-published blog, where I know they’ll be politely ignored. A large part of the disconnect I’m feeling between the movies I’ve been watching and the Online Discourse surrounding them has to do with social media’s addiction to red-hot, extremist, Galaxy Brain takes. The last couple years of COVID-era labor & tedium have left me numb to most pop culture stimuli, so it’s getting increasingly difficult to pretend that every single release needs to be immediately sorted into either the Best Movie Ever or the Total Garbage categories. Most movies are unremarkable, especially when viewed outside the sensory-immersion ritual of experiencing them at a proper cinema. All I’m really looking for here is a pleasant way to pass the time between shifts at the office.
To that end, I’ll confess that I cannot match the enthusiasm of either the overwhelming consensus that The Woman in the Window is an embarrassing failure or the minority reclamation of it as an underappreciated trash gem. Joe Wright’s adaptation of the post-Gillian Flynn paperback thriller has had its own exhausting travels from concept to screen, initially planned as a theatrical release through 20th Century Fox but instead landing a COVID-flavored streaming deal with Netflix. That twisty distribution path has been widely perceived as a fall from grace, saddling The Woman in the Window with the perception of being a major studio misfire worthy of internet-wide jeers & mockery. I wish I could join the chorus of trash-gobbling genre nerds who’ve pushed back on that pre-loaded consensus opinion, praising the film as delightfully preposterous pop art with a fun, distinct sense of style. I just can’t help but find both positions to be an exaggeration of what The Woman in the Window actually is. It’s low-key, wine-buzz fun as a Lifetime thriller version of Rear Window, but not enough of a hoot to make the effort of defending its honor worthwhile. Forcing it into either a Best or Worst category feels like a desperate attempt to conjure Discourse out of thin air – a distinctly modern, thoroughly embarrassing form of alchemy.
There are many classic thrillers directly cited onscreen throughout The Woman in the Window—Gaslight, Laura, Dark Passage, etc.—but Rear Window is its clearest, most dominant source of inspiration. Amy Adams stars as a nosy, isolated neighbor who can’t tell if she’s witnessed a murder through the next-door family’s window or if mixing obnoxious amounts of red wine with her new behavioral meds is causing her to hallucinate. Not to spoil too much in a review of a movie that was hotly debated and then promptly forgotten months ago, but the answer is both. Wright submerges the audience in his spaced-out, reclusive heroine’s wine-tinted POV to the point where the physical existence of all events, suspects, and “helpful” side characters are highly questionable. Each performance outside of Adams’s woman-on-the-verge protagonist borders on the comic absurdism of a dream sequence or an improv sketch. Adams often wakes up from her heavily medicated blackouts visually immersed in the Turner Classic Movies that loop on her TV screen. There is no point in attempting to solve the mysteries of either the murder at hand or the circumstances of its drunken witness’s past. All you can do until the story sobers up is occasionally cackle at Wright’s overreaching attempts at visual style, while taking note of all the better-realized mystery thrillers he cites onscreen as reference.
If there’s anything especially embarrassing about The Woman in the Window‘s mediocre, straight-to-streaming pleasures, it’s in the amount of big-name talent needed to pull it off. Beyond wasting the typically powerful screen presence of actors like Jennifer Jason Leigh, Julianne Moore, and Brian Tyree Henry on roles with no significant impact, this big-budget Lifetime howler was also penned by Tracy Letts and scored by Danny Elfman – two legends in their respective crafts. The prestige of those contributions doesn’t really change the fact that the movie is reasonably cromulent as a passive entertainment. I’m not even sure Wright was aiming his ambitions much higher than that anyway. The most pivotal scene in the entire film features Adams and Moore as two moms getting wine drunk on Halloween night, which I feel like is a perfect illustration of the film’s target audience. Watch it when you want something lightly suspenseful and highly silly that won’t tax too much of your brain power before your job or your kids or the general malaise of living on this hell-planet zaps the rest of it out of you. It’s not worth much as a topic of online conversation, but it is a mildly entertaining way to spend 100 minutes.
For this lagniappe episode of the podcast, Boomer, Brandon, and Alli discuss William Grefé’s public domain horror curio Impulse (1974), in which William Shatner models leisure suits & strangles women in the blinding Florida sunshine.
02:20 Mars Attacks! (1996) 06:20 Spell (2020) 08:35 Bill and Ted Face the Music (2020) 10:40 The Wind (2018) 13:32 Grim Prairie Tales (1990) 15:25 Point Break (1991) 18:40 Black Widow (2021) 21:40 Cruella (2021) 24:45 Cowards Bend the Knee (2003) 27:35 Valley of the Dolls (1967)