Secret Window Review
On a sliding scale of Stephen King adaptations, Secret Window ranks towards the top. Not right at the top with Carrie, Stand By Me and The Shawshank Redemption but still a good distance above recent disasters like Dreamcatcher and Hearts In Atlantis. The film is adapted from one of his shorter tales, which is often a good omen. It's the fat, 1000-page doorstops that seem to fare the worst. The original novella, Secret Window, Secret Garden appeared in his 1990 collection Four Past Midnight and covers familiar ground for King: a writer's worst nightmare come true. In The Dark Half, he wrote about a famous novelist who invented a pseudonym to pen trashy thrillers, only to see it come to life and threaten his family, while Misery was about an author kidnapped by a psychotic fan who did things to him that, thirteen years later, make this reviewer draw his feet under his chair.
The nightmare in Secret Window starts with four words all writers must fear: "You stole my story". They're directed at Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp), a once successful author whose life has fallen to pieces since he caught his wife in bed with another man. Now he lives alone with his dog in a lakeside cabin, making the occasional, half-hearted attempt to start on a new novel but mostly napping on his couch. His wallowing is interrupted by a knock at the door from John Shooter (John Turturro), an indignant southerner who accuses Mort of plagiarising a short story he wrote: Secret Window. Mort doesn't know what he's talking about and since Shooter claims he wrote his story in 1997 and Mort's was published in a magazine in 1995, that should settle the matter, right? Wrong. Shooter is an obsessed lunatic and he's prepared to do just about anything to get what he wants from Mort, which is nothing so simple as justice or money.
While the story itself is little more than a decent potboiler, writer/director David Koepp and star Johnny Depp elevate the material, turning it into an engrossing, funny and sometimes chilling little B-movie. Koepp is one of Hollywood's top screenwriters (Jurassic Park, Spider-Man) and a good director whose last film, the ghost story Stir Of Echoes might have gotten the attention it deserved if it hadn't come out shortly after The Sixth Sense. He has a pleasingly old-fashioned directing style and makes tight, effective thrillers spiced with black humour. Many of the laughs can be attributed to Johnny Depp, who pulls off the same trick that made Pirates Of The Carribean such a pleasure, creating a wildly quirky character who's a scream to watch and almost, but not quite, undercutting the material. Jack Nicholson does something similar in his star turns and he doesn't do it that much better. Secret Window also benefits from a macabre ending that may not be entirely original but is exactly right for the material and all the more unexpected in a mainstream, PG-13-rated studio film.