Secret Window

UK release date: Mar 26 2008

cast list

Johnny Depp
John Turturro
Maria Bello

directed by
David Koepp

Secret Window is standard Stephen King fare. Based on a little known novella from King, it contains some very familiar elements. The frustrated writer comes out of many other famous King novels and films, such as Misery, The Dark Half and The Shining. And while this new adaptation may be no Misery or Shining, it certainly ain’t no Dark Half.

Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp) has writer’s block. Deciding to combat it with self-imposed isolation in the small town of Tashmere Lake, he is also overcoming a recent separation from his wife. One day his peace is disturbed by a mysterious character calling himself John Shooter (John Turturro). Shooter claims that one of Rainey’s old short stories is in fact stolen from a manuscript which he has written. After dismissing him as a wacko Rainey soon discovers Shooter is adamant he has been plagiarised and will do anything to be acknowledged.

Released at the height of Johnny Depp’s recent career surge, Secret Window is a film which depends on the charm and talent of its leading character. Rather like Castaway, the main protagonist is isolated for much of the film and the smallest quirks and movements are necessary to convey what dialogue is unable to. It is Secret Window’s saving grace then that Depp is playing Mort Rainey.

Coming off as a likeable and eccentric author, Depp manages to hold the audience’s attention through much of the film’s atmosphere-building first half. It’s a great performance which I found much more satisfying than his recently overrated portrayal of a certain pirate. The rest of the supporting cast are just that – supporting. John Turturro’s pi**ed off Hick is average but not as menacing as it should be.

Unlike many other recent examples of the genre, Secret Window doesn’t rely on cheap shocks to scare the audiences. Tension and atmosphere are prioritised over sudden musical lunges inciting the viewer to “jump out of their seat”. There are numerous uneasy moments with Depp alone in his cabin and writer/director David Koepp manages to sustain the suspense throughout. It’s got a rather Hitchcock-ian feeling, although rather more trashy. It’s clear we’re heading for a surprise ending (a guarantee these days) but it’s a shame that the surprise isn’t more surprising.

The twist is borrowed from too many, superior films to mention. and any hardened thriller fan will see it coming miles off. But what is a surprise is how the film ends after the twist. It does tend to lurch into silliness although the final note is incredibly dark. Without wishing to spoil anything, the film ends more like a book than a film, meaning it’s more daring than you’d expect.

It may not bring much that’s new to the already crowded genre but Secret Window has just enough aces up its sleeve to warrant attention. It features an excellent performance from the stellar Depp, a tense atmosphere and a nicely lurid Hitchcock feel to it. The “secret” may not be such a secret but then when is it ever anymore? An entertaining potboiler nonetheless.

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