by Paul Deeter
Remember the 1993 film Groundhog Day? I think most people look back on this film with recognition for its overall genre influence. Bill Murray is our lead meteorologist stuck reporting on Groundhog Day, morning after morning. His discontent for his life and this day is made unbearable over time with the loop, and as so comedy ensues. I don't think this movie is necessarily the end-all be-all of it premise, but it's hard not to roll your eyes when a film takes on the time-loop premise so seriously. This premise is basically boiled down to the idea that our protagonist either goes to sleep, or even more dramatically, dies, and is rewoken on the same day they woke up in. There are so many movies that play off this, some better than others, but it's still an actively used trope. I'll start by saying, I have not seen this year's The Map of Tiny Perfect Things, but I understand as a YA romantic twist on this narrative is an attempt to keep things fresh. Because with the film Groundhog Day, we had a comedy that become darker as things went on but never lost its levity. The show Russian Doll (2019) would follow this up years later with Natasha Lyonne as our lead, which also in turn used black comedy to her looped-day within a New York setting. In between Bill Murray's Groundhog Day in 1993 and 2019 we would still have a lot of these entries, a sold X-Files episode of a bank robbery looped into eternity, a Tom Cruise underrated entry in the scifi genre, (Edge of Tomorrow) and so many more to count. It's like Hollywood is stuck in the same loop, and they're running out of concepts.
I'm tempted to write an article on Groundhog Day and the tropes that come with it, but naturally there's a ton of articles covering the technique, some with criticism and some with appreciation of the way the films tonally vary. It's no news to call this genre old hat, but some appreciation can still come of it. I'd also be the last to say Hollywood's running out of ideas overall. I was tempted to write an article in 2020 about the Bill and Ted entry and how the fondness for the 80's are leaking their way into remakes and reboots in every which direction. Probably for the best, I mentioned this to an ex-coworker while I was pitching some article concepts and he basically said to the effect: old news.
So I was hard pressed to consider the idea of writing this article without the sense of repeating what many others have said about new movies, and the sense of deja vu that comes with remakes, sequels and such. I'm actually a big fan of the horror remake, even some that don't quite deliver to the quality of the originals. I like the Rob Zombie Halloween 1 and 2 for example, although these are not necessarily well received films. But even outside of traditional remakes, there's a common tradition that seems more morally ambiguous. This tradition boils down to the spiritual remakes that come with classic storylines, and while movies like Edge of Tomorrow are new twists on the genre, a spiritual remake tends to feel a bit more, familiar. And there's nothing more tempting than going back to the old great Alfred Hitchcock, and giving him apropos for career defining movies like Psycho or Vertigo. Psycho debatably inspired the whole slasher genre, while movies like The Lady Vanishes have been more directly picked for novel remakes (i.e. The Girl on the Train, Non-stop). These movies are so original that they deserved to be called classic. So when his movie Rear Window released in 1954 with the phenomenal Grace Kelly and James Stewart at the top of their careers, it was a bonafide hit. This movie is universally loved, and I have just recently rewatched it and can confirm that it holds up, at least in my opinion. This movie would establish itself as a truly claustrophobic tale, with our protagonist stuck at home in a leg cast, wheelchair bound with nothing but his own boredom and a telescope to play with. It's natural (being Hitchcock) that things take a turn for the dark, when Jeff (Stewart) witnesses a murder that he can't quite solve. More mysterious is the lack of evidence involved and the disbelief of his peers and maid. Was this paranoia to a delusional degree?
With the success of Rear Window and other Hitchcock films it would be common to see homages in popular culture to these films. The quality entry in the Simpsons titled "Bart of Darkness" is an example of their strengths to parody influential films in the 90s. This episode saw a wheelchair-bound Bart spying on Ned Flanders house after seeing him witness some suspicious behavior. This is a parody however, and it wasn't uncommon for the show to take on parodies. This was a reputation that inspired the "Simpsons Did It" South Park gag that says there are no new ideas in sitcom shows. Why does that sound familiar? There's nothing wrong with a good parody, but I'd argue the benefit of an homage. When movies borrow so closely from Hitchcock, when do they stop being homages and start, for lack of a better term, plagiarizing the director?
The film Disturbia came out in 2007 to good acclaim, a concept borrowed closely from Rear Window with the twist that our protagonist is stuck at home on house arrest. Also he's played by a young Shia Labeouf, bringing a teen-movie vibe to this PG-13 flick. Again, the concept is him witnessing a murder and the trouble backing up his accusations, but hey, it's a fun time. Matched with a good villain played by David Morse and a solid soundtrack and we're looking at a classic B-Movie.
A year before this, and somewhat coincidentally, we have a film called Civic Duty, a terrible Peter Krause film that aged poorly based on its xenophobic premise. Peter Krause (he's better than this) plays a racist neighbor who we somehow have to sympathize with, as he spies on his Middle-Eastern neighbor. The movie not only casts suspicion on this neighbor for a crime, but even goes so far as to accuse him of homeland based terrorism. While the paranoia was high at the time with racist, closed-minded people fearing any foreign citizens post 9/11, this movie damns itself into controversy from day one. This movie attempts to tell a "Rear Window" type tale with the idea of political unease, but it flopped.
Even after movies like Disturbia and The Neighbor (2017) continue to address neighbor paranoia elements that boil down to the animal fear of trusting thy neighbor, these films keep popping up like weeds, year after year. This is all my meandering way to say that 2021's The Woman in the Window , is garnering some hype for it's significant cast and acclaimed director, Joe Wright. It's got Amy Adams to lead, a villian played cooly by Gary Oldman and even some flashbacks with the great Anthony Mackie. Why he isn't more utilized I can't say, this movie fails in other ways as well. The film, (do I need to say it?) is about a woman who is stuck in her house with agoraphobia and witnesses a murder of a man's wife that seems to be considered completely delusional. There are a few elements here that try to mix up the genre, particularly some interesting use of hallucinatory visuals. We have our unreliable narrator therefore, a woman haunted by grief I won't spoil, and suffering from agoraphobia. This is a serious condition, that makes the concern of the lead neighbor matched with the powerlessness that comes with her fears. I admired some of the use of grief along with our lead performance by Adams, which isn't exploitative in my opinion, although the jury's not out critically. As Disturbia played with house arrest, we have our crippling factor here. But is it enough to deviate from the original?
I said I wouldn't mention the Groundhog Day effect, but it has been under criticism by many for it's overuse. Now I'd argue we are in the time of the spoilerific thriller craze that is due slightly to the novel Gone Girl and the resurgence of dark twisted character building. It's okay to continue the trend, in fact I'm all about the risks some of these movies take. But when does homage turn into theft? As with movies like TWITW, we have our next big Netflix obsession with easy access to large audiences. Movies like these and The Girl on The Train and Gone Girl we can suck up that dark content while feeling some sense of nostalgia from the storytelling. But like the time-loop film narrative, it feels like we are stuck in repetition of Hitchcock. What's worse is that like Civic Duty, these films are doomed to age poorly. I peeked at the Tomato-meter of this film and the reviews are pretty poor. I think part of that is due to saminess but another factor is the trouble of believability. There's so many plot-holes in films that borrow these old narrative types. Hire a private investigator! Put up security cameras, etc. There isn't enough to make these movies unique, and they're already familiar. It kind of reminds me of the huge secret that was Bird Box, a Netflix movie with a spoiler-block larger than the Berlin wall. Once we all found out the secret, did we continue to care? No there was nothing more to quietly discuss. The film now feels irrelevant.
That's my idea of the fate of The Woman in the Window. It's got legs right now, it's one of the top watched Netflix films of the week. It's behind a spoiler-gate. People will be telling their friends to see it, and these friends won't even have to leave their couches to watch it! I know this movie has its fame but it also feels stale and doomed to spoil. I predict people are gonna talk about it perchance to the effect of, "hey what was that Amy Adams Rear Window movie?) with a title so lame I forgot it frequently when writing this article. It's 2021, and Netflix has so much content to offer, but the theatres are opening up again. We aren't all stuck in our house anymore (ha, ha) and have options to see so many more films. So unfortunately, I imagine Wright's entry to this genre is doomed to fail, as it already has lost it's critical acclaim. In the beginning of the film, Rear Window plays in the background on a laptop screen. It's a cutesy reminder. A reminder to stop watching this movie and put on a better one.