(Originally published in Rocky Mountain Bullhorn)
Throughout his extensive career, Stephen King has habitually attempted (in novels such as The Dark Half and Misery) to confront the relationship between the artist and his work, and that thematic preoccupation once again comes into play in David Koepp’s Secret Window. Adapted from a King novella, the film concerns Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp), a novelist who’s moved to a lakeside cabin after a bitter separation from his adulterous wife Amy (Maria Bello). Saddled with writer’s block, Mort retreats into extended naps on his living room sofa until, one day, his leisurely existence is interrupted by the appearance of John Shooter (John Turturro), an Amish psycho who claims Mort plagiarized one of his short stories. Shooter’s biggest gripe is that Mort changed the stolen story, and he wants the writer to redo the piece with his original ending. As one might expect from a King thriller, harassment turns to murder as Mort’s pooch is impaled by a screwdriver and his wife’s house is burned to the ground, all of which leads Mort to suspect that someone’s hired this southern-fried kook to drive him mad. Koepp’s serpentine camera calisthenics owe more than a passing debt to David Fincher (who directed Koepp’s Panic Room script) while Philip Glass’ score primarily resembles the composer’s past work, and this familiarity eventually extends into the film’s crucial narrative surprises. Still, if Secret Window’s denouement hinges upon recycled twists from far better movies, its distinctive trump card is Depp, whose wonderfully frazzled portrait of seething resentment almost makes this minor thriller seem fresh.