Secret Window Movie Review
Coming off of what is most definitely the highlight of his career thus far, Johnny Depp strikes out to prove his newfound star status with Secret Window, a creepy thriller based on a novella by Stephen King. Depp, who is known for playing strange and rather lonesome characters, isn't all that offbeat here, but he is far away from the pirates and skeletons that gave him an Oscar nomination.
Depp plays Mort Rainey, a reclusive author, who, six months after discovering that his beautiful wife Amy (Maria Bello) is cheating on him, is living in a cabin with his dog. It's the perfect setting to write his next book, but he tends to spend most of the time napping and getting drunk. It's a wonderful existence - that is, until a man named John Shooter (John Turturro) shows up at his door accusing Mort of plagiarizing one of his stories. Mort thinks nothing of it at first, but begins to question himself and those around him as Shooter sticks around, his behavior becoming more calculated and violent. As the mystery grows, Mort starts to suspect that there is more to the story than just a crazy man with wild accusations...
Stephen King stories always make for interesting movies, though "interesting" is not always a good thing. Some of "his" movies are classics - The Shining and Carrie, for example - and some are just plain good - Misery and The Green Mile - but the majority of the other 80 movies that are related to him can easily be forgotten. For every good movie adaptation there are usually ten bad ones (Dreamcatcher should count as a couple), so the odds are not in Secret Window's favor...
David Koepp wrote and directed Secret Window, which, on paper, could be a good or a bad thing. His last theatrically-directed piece was the amazingly good Stir of Echoes, but he also has the amazingly bad Trigger Effect to his name as well. Writing credits include the two Spider-Man movies and Jurassic Park, but his career is also spotted with Snake Eyes. Nonetheless, Secret Window can hesitantly be placed into the good category, as Koepp has created a visually impressive film that is suspenseful and slightly creepy. From the first minute, the tension begins to build, escalating to a never-ending sense of isolation. It never really makes sense why Mort continues to return to his cabin even though there is a madman stalking him, but Koepp does his best to cover that up by keeping us on the edge of ours seats. Few scenes in Secret Window could be considered exciting or extraordinary, yet there is something about them that is eerie and keeps our hearts pumping just a bit faster.
Unfortunately, behind the suspense is a movie that needs more. Johnny Depp is great; he does an excellent job of keeping the film moving despite the fact that he is often the only one on camera. His character isn't as strange as some of his in the past, but perhaps we are starting to see a more mature career unfold for Depp, that of an actor who still is willing to take risks but is starting to enjoy stardom a bit more. Ironically enough, his hair here almost matches that in Edward Scissorhands. Beyond Depp, though, the thriller called Secret Window could and should be better.
There are many things that hurt Secret Window, though many of them might not be the story but the way they are presented. I always try to avoid spoilers whenever possible, but to tackle a movie like this needs a bit of spoilage (in other words, this is a spoiler warning). The trailer for the movie makes it quite clear that Secret Window is going to have a twist ending (it repeats over and over that the only important part of a story is the ending). Sadly enough, based on the trailer alone, I thought of what the twist would be, and I was correct. My suspicions were confirmed in the first minute of the movie as well, when Koepp leads the camera through an object which I will not name, which seemed like a rather obvious hint. As the movie rolled on, I did question my conclusion a few times, but I always returned to it. In other words, while I like twist endings, I am not typically thrilled by ones that I can figure out two months before seeing the film.
The trailer was correct in saying that the only important part of a story is the ending - the ending makes or breaks. In this case, some people will like the ending and some will hate it. It is one of those endings that leaves one a bit disappointed, just because it climaxes in a way that doesn't make for good entertainment. Some people like these kinds of endings because they distinguish themselves from normal Hollywood fare; I am often one of these people, though if I figure the answer out ahead of time, I'm not going to be blown away.
Secret Window's success really lies in its ending, and for the majority of viewers, the ending will not do the film justice. Though a bit predictable due to the choice of promotion and camerawork by Koepp, the ending is fairly bold; on the other hand, it isn't what people want.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.