Secret Window (BrianOrndorf)
March 11th, 2004
“Secret Window” is based on a Stephen King short story, and should’ve remained on the literary shelves. This stretched-thin, often deeply labored thriller makes 95 minutes feel like 12 days as it weaves around situations of suspense and straight up horror. The Hitchcockian touches makes the film fun at times, but by the time the obligatory twist rolls around, you won’t care whodunit.
Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp) is a successful novelist who is trying to work through a divorce from his wife, Amy (Maria Bello, “The Cooler”), and his own writer’s block with lazy afternoon naps and a steady diet of junk food. Enter John Shooter (John Turturro), a mysterious Mississippi amateur author who claims that Mort stole one of his stories. Shooter is a dangerous threat to Mort, and gives him three days to prove that he didn’t plagiarize his tale. Mort, growing increasingly paranoid, tries to figure out just why Shooter is after him, and how to stop the stranger from murdering everyone around him.
“Secret Window” is based on King's short story “Secret Window, Secret Garden,” which appeared in his collection, “Four Past Midnight.” Film adaptations from King’s short stories have been successful before (“Stand By Me”), but stretching out a limited amount of material into a 90-minute feature film is a very tricky proposal. Writer/director David Koepp has been experimenting with low-tech thrillers for years now (“The Trigger Effect,” “Stir of Echoes”), but he hasn’t mastered the genre yet, and “Window” holds a magnifying glass to Koepp’s unwieldy mistakes with the formula, as well as his poor judgment in choosing this paper-thin story to develop for the big screen.
“Window” is a small, intimate horror/suspense story, with Koepp heading down King’s familiar “The Shining” pathway of writer’s block and claustrophobia with conviction. The film is arranged in very broad strokes, with Koepp paying heavy tribute to Hitchcock throughout the film, from the precise angles of the cinematography to Philip Glass’s thundering Herrmannesque score. And Koepp’s resuscitation of the master’s style is the best element of “Window.” In the writing, the film is tarted up with thickly imagined characters, derivative motivations, twists upon twists, and some late-in-the-game character development from Amy that stops the film dead. Koepp is straining the entire film to stretch this fleeting story into a full-length feature, but it only results in sluggish storytelling and an eventual lack of interest. Nothing in the film gels into true suspense. Koepp the director has much more fun finding ways to cover the tepid insanity, but even that wears out its welcome fairly quickly with an overabundance of “boo!” scares and PG-13 neutered mayhem. By this time, any curiosity about Mort’s dilemma is long gone, but Koepp keeps dragging the dull story along regardless.
Of course, there is a last minute twist to all this intense labor. Instead of being gently massaged into the framework of the film, Koepp simply drops the surprise like an anvil on the narrative, as if to say, “OK, enough is enough. Let’s just get this beast over with.” Pay attention to “Secret Window,” and you can guess the twist pretty easily. Sleep through most of “Secret Window,” and you’re likely to figure it out just as easily.
My rating: C-