Duration: 100 minutes
Director: Joe Wright
Writer: Tracy Letts (based on the book by AJ Finn)
Actors: Amy Adams, Julianne Moore, Gary Oldman
By Caz Armstrong
Amy Adams brings out all her unhinged energy in this one-location psychological thriller with just a few holes.
Child psychologist Dr. Anna Fox (Amy Adams) is an agoraphobic shut-in whiling away her days rattling around in her enormous brownstone home. Bottles of wine and pills are always on hand and weird lodger David (Wyatt Russell) lives in her basement. A new family moves in over the street , drawing her fascination. She spies on Alistair (Gary Oldman) and his not-quite-right son Ethan (Fred Hechinger).
After witnessing a horrific crime Anna’s world is shaken to the core. Her sanity is questioned while she insists she really did see what she did. Can she believe her own eyes? Is she just too drunk and unstable to be believed? Or has she stumbled upon a crime of chilling proportions?
Adams’ performance teeters on the line between wonderful and overly theatrical. At points she exudes the frustration of a desperate woman not being believed, but at others she tips into over dramatics. With the intention of creating a claustrophobic one-character thriller, other big name actors like Anthony Mackie, Julianne Moore or Gary Oldman appear for a disappointingly short amount of time.
Wright has gone for a rather earnest and hammy performance style from all of the actors. In many places subtext is skipped in favour of loud declarations which leave nothing to the imagination.
Comparisons to a sub-par Hitchcock are understandable since the film does take itself fairly seriously. But who’s to say that films should never attempt a style or genre just because another one did it better? It has tension, claustrophobia and does keep the viewer guessing as whether to trust Anna’s experiences.
One of the more immediately frustrating elements is how tropey it is. You could make a bingo card for all the thriller tropes you see, from the unbelieving police to the tragic past. But we’re not all film scholars picking these things apart, some people just want to relax and enjoy the ride. And although this film leans a bit too heavily on them, tropes help people to do that.
On the plus side the visual style is notably striking. With boldly framed shapes and blocks of rich colour there’s a lot to appreciate. This meticulous eye for colour and design helps lift the film into something more special.
As with a lot of elements of this film the visual style does tip over into the ‘gone too far’ zone in places. Particularly as we’re drawn into Anna’s inner mind and see the projection of her thoughts and fears. But on the whole it looks great and is a draw for the film.
The cat actor (yes the American Humane Association refers to animals as ‘actors’) who plays Punch gave a brilliant performance, completely stealing the entire scene while ‘pretending’ to resist being put in their carrying box. And at one point they lick their ‘sore’ paw very convincingly, so they were served a real injustice when they didn’t even get mentioned in the credits. Despite being quite an important part of the film, helping to raise the tension by representing part of Anna’s inner vulnerability, poor Punchy (and their animal handler) doesn’t get a mention.
This film is no Hitchcock, it’s just a bit too hammy, too tropey, and overly-blocked out. But it’s also visually stylish, thrilling and fun. The narrator is unreliable enough so that the audience second guesses themselves and the cat actor is great. The ending is pretty wild as the film throws everything at the wall for the climax. There’s plenty to pick apart but if you go into this film just looking to have fun then you will.