Any half-savvy moviegoer will have the entire plot of "Secret Window" sussed out so far in advance that after the first couple reels the only thing left to do is sit back and enjoy Johnny Depp as he turns this tattered Stephen King B-thriller into a one-man tour de force of gloriously glib psychodrama.
It's a movie that aspires only to entertain with easy apprehension, and harbors no delusions that it's anything more than second-rate horror cobbled together from familiar bits of other King stories (notably "The Dark Half" and "Misery") -- in short, a corny goosepimpler for genre gourmets who wish more drive-in flicks were made with a crafty cinematic élan.
Depp delves happily and headlong into playing Mort Rainey, a dejected divorcé novelist who is holed up in a lakeside cabin, wallowing in writer's block and self-pity until John Shooter -- a nerve-racking nut job played by John Turturro with a Mississippi-backwoods drawl -- turns up on his doorstep accusing him of plagiarism. "Yew stowal mah stowry," the slump-shouldered, slack-jawed whacko bug-eyes from behind the rim of an Amish farmer's round-topped hat.
Soon Mort's beloved blind little dog turns up dead with a screwdriver through its neck (yep, saw that coming), and every time he steps outside, Shooter is lurking quite ominously, if a little comically, in the shadows, determined to threaten a confession out of the author -- and in an extra layer of prophetic weirdness, force him to "fix mah endin'." It seems Mort's eerily similar short story, about a jealous husband plotting the death of his bride, diverges in its finale, much to John Shooter's dissatisfaction.
Screenwriter-director David Koepp ("Stir of Echoes") revels in the horror-flick irrationality of Depp's character, who is dumb enough to keep going back to the cabin again and again, even after Shooter graduates from killing dogs to arson and murder, predictably implicating the novelist along the way. But while unabashedly embracing, and sometimes telegraphing, all the trappings of a cheap alone-in-the-woods stalker chiller (enter the inevitable eccentric sheriff), Koepp peppers the picture with shrewd little details (like the ironic fact that Shooter's story reads better than Mort's) which demonstrate for those paying attention that there's more to this unrepentantly cheesy movie than meets the eye.
But no matter what the director brought to "Secret Window," it wouldn't have the same teetering-on-the-edge-of-trash panache without the unique and unconventional talents of Johnny Depp. There's more to Mort Rainey than meets the eye too, and few actors have the enigmatic screen presence to pull off what Depp does here, lending the film a droll (but not self-aware or satirical) humor while spending most of the film alone, afraid, and slowly going mad -- often muttering to himself while puttering around miserably in his ex-wife's now-ratty bathrobe.
"Secret Window" may be predictable, pedestrian and not particularly scary. But if all horror movies were this imaginative in their triviality, being a film critic would be a lot more gratifying.
Run time: 96 mins
In Theaters: Friday 12th March 2004
Box Office USA: $47.8M
Box Office Worldwide: $92.9M
Distributed by: Columbia Pictures
Production compaines: Columbia Pictures, Grand Slam Productions, Pariah Entertainment Group
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 46%
Fresh: 74 Rotten: 86
IMDB: 6.6 / 10
Director: David Koepp
Starring: Johnny Depp as Mort Rainey, John Turturro as John Shooter, Maria Bello as Amy Rainey, Timothy Hutton as Ted Milner, Charles S. Dutton as Ken Karsch, Len Cariou as Sheriff Dave Newsome, Joan Heney as Mrs. Garvey, John Dunn-Hill as Tom Greenleaf (as John Dunn Hill), Vlasta Vrána as Fire Chief Wickersham, Matt Holland as Detective Bradley, Gillian Ferrabee as Fran Evans, Bronwen Mantel as Greta Bowie, Elizabeth Marleau as Juliet Stoker, Kyle Allatt as Busboy, Richard Jutras as Motel Manager
Also starring: Charles S Dutton