Netflix’s The Woman in the Window: Reflecting on Hitchcock’s legacy through film

Netflix’s The Woman in the Window: Reflecting on Hitchcock’s legacy through film

The recent release of Netflix’s long-awaited adaptation of A.J Finn novel The Woman in the Window instantly rose to the top of the UK’s top 10 list, and with a star-studded cast that included the likes of Amy Adams, Gary Oldman and Julianne Moore it’s not hard to see why. It follows a child therapist, Anna Fox, who is convinced that she witnesses a terrible crime from the window of her Manhattan brownstone, but is unable to leave her house due to crippling agoraphobia.

What really struck me about the film were the parallels to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954)

This tense, psychological thriller, originally due for release in 2019, had a reportedly turbulent journey to our screens. It was plagued with a succession of issues that affected the project’s progress and ultimate completion, much to the discontent of fans of the original novel. From COVID-19 affecting its theatrical release date, to re-shoots prompted by Disney acquisitioning 21st Century Fox in 2019, this film had generated so much buzz that it inevitably was not going to live up to everyone’s expectations. However, while the film did suffer from pacing problems and a stunted script, it did keep me hooked.

It definitely delivered on a tense and ominous atmosphere throughout, but what really struck me about the film were the parallels to Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954). With protagonist Anna portrayed as a past fan of his films, the story thankfully acknowledges this classic as being a source of inspiration. This self-awareness might be one of the only redeeming qualities of this Netflix original, and it prompted me to reflect on the countless other films inspired by Hitchcock’s prevailing influence on the film industry.

In doing this, I came across such an immense volume of ‘Hitchcockian’ films, that it would be impossible to include them all. One recognisable suspect from recent years, however, and one which The Woman in the Window echoes, is The Girl on the Train (2016). If you are familiar with any of his films, you will agree that suspense is Hitchcock’s middle name, and this recent similarly-inspired book-to-film adaptation is certainly not short on this.

His contributions to cinematography have been considered game-changing by many

The theme of voyeurism is prevalent from the get-go as the protagonist also witnesses a crime from a window, in this case, the window of a moving train. Not only does this hark back to (yep, you’ve guessed it) Rear Window, the centricity of the railway in the narrative and the dynamism that ensues, echoes Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train (1951). In this, two strangers conspire to commit murders for each other in this compelling addition to the psychological thriller genre. The striking similarities do not end there, as Hitchcock’s The Lady Vanishes (1938) attests. This British murder mystery adaptation of a novel by Ethel Lina White, employs the use of memory loss and hallucinations to evoke tension and intrigue through the resulting confusion – a technique that both The Girl on the Train and The Woman in the Window do not shy away from.

It is not just his trademark themes that have shaped modern cinema in recent years either – his visual style has pervaded many successful films over the years. Unparalleled in their ability to induce feelings of unease and apprehension on screen, his contributions to cinematography have been considered game-changing by many.  These include long and close up shots such as those that feature in Hitchcock’s Young and Innocent (1937). Years later, Shutter Island (2010) masterfully employs this to create a tense atmosphere during which audiences attempt to ascertain who is lying or telling the truth.  

Hitchcock’s use of high-angle aerial shots – which proved a dramatic addition to the heart-in-mouth chase sequence at the conclusion of The Woman in the Window – has also been revisited time and time again. Originally featuring in classics such as Psycho (1960) and The Birds (1963), more recently inspired films include David Fincher’s Zodiac (2007) and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver (1976).

It is the ‘Dolly Zoom’ however, which is most attributable to Hitchcock’s genius. First used in Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958), this technique has never ceased to be effective in underscoring a character’s fear. It was famously employed by Steven Spielberg in Jaws (1975) when the shark is spotted in the water, and more recently in Knives Out (2019), again to portray panic.

Ultimately it seems that not only have Hitchcock’s trademark themes been consistently harked back to in recent productions, his direction has also left a lasting impression on the film industry. He was even the first filmmaker to attempt to introduce 3D to film in Dial M for Murder (1954), although it would be years until interest in this technology fully found its footing.

His legacy is timeless and, if The Women in the Window is anything to go by, will continue to inspire and influence films of the future.

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