5-Word 365 #303 – Secret Window

You can’t have a Horror Week without a tribute to The King (Stephen, not Elvis). While this is certainly one of his less supernatural efforts, it’s still nicely spooky.

Secret Window

Please don’t eat the corn.

Mort Rainey is a writer who has retreated to his lakeside cabin after catching his wife in an affair. Out of the blue, Mort finds a man at his front door calling himself John Shooter. Shooter insists that Mort stole one of his stories and published it as his own. As Mort is repeatedly harassed by Shooter, every attempt to prove the story is not plagiarised ends in disaster and, soon enough, death. As the body count rises, so does Mort’s desperation, until a showdown with Shooter is imminent. But is everything is at seems?

Secret Window was released eight years ago, based on a Stephen King novella that was published fourteen years before that. At this point, I think it is fair enough to discuss the movie without resorting to a spoiler warning. If you disagree, leave now and come back when you’ve seen the movie. We’ll wait right here, honest.

You’re back? Excellent. Moving on…

Secret Window is a neat little thriller written and directed by David Koepp about what happens when seclusion and trauma combine to make delusion and dissociation. Koepp does a very good job adapting King’s somewhat melodramatic novella (from the Four Past Midnight collection) with its echoes of The Dark Half into something more relatable and cinematic. Koepp has obviously picked up a few tricks from David Fincher (who directed Koepp’s screenplay for Panic Room) and changed the story into more of a Fight Club scenario, where Shooter is solely an hallucination representing Mort’s darker impulses. The story is told almost entirely from Mort’s own subjective point of view, signified by two key shots that bookend the film: the camera passing into and later out of the large mirror that hangs over Mort’s fireplace, when the film returns to the objective reality. Once you reach the end of the movie, and the unreliable narrator element becomes clear, there are plenty of discussions to be had about what was real and what wasn’t.

The film rests heavily on Mort’s shoulders, and Johnny Depp brings his full charismatic energy to the role, imbuing scenes of a man alternately talking to himself and going for a nap with a magnetism few other actors could match. His increasing desperation and confusion is palpable, and when the final break comes – when he starts seeing his inner voice instead of just hearing it – you can’t help but sympathise with him. John Turturro is suitably menacing as Shooter. Even though he is not actually on screen for very long, you can feel his influence on Mort as the writer gets more and more desperate. Timothy Hutton (who played Mort’s equivalent Thad Beaumont in the film of The Dark Half) keeps a bit of ambiguity going as Ted, the new man in Mrs Rainey’s life, who Mort initially suspects is behind Shooter’s presence, and Maria Bello gets to do some stunts for once as Mort’s ex.

“You’ve been in this boat before, Tim. How’d you take care of things?”

Ultimately, Secret Window is a fun, low-key. psychological thriller buoyed by the combined pedigree of those behind it. Anyone familiar with the names in the credits will probably see the ending coming, but the journey is still worthwhile. On the great list of Stephen King adaptations, this would be a solid mid-table player. It’s no Shawshank, but it’s miles above The Lawnmower Man.

The DVD is a decent package too. It comes with a few deleted scenes, an in-depth “making of” in three parts, and an intelligent and insightful director’s commentary. The whole thing is considerably more than the fluff that you often find, and those of you (like me) who enjoy these things will find plenty to appreciate.


  1. mistylayne · November 18, 2012

    Wasn’t a huge fan which made me sad because I love both King and Depp.

    • Ryan McNeely · November 18, 2012

      Yeah, I think that’s kind of the standard response to this flick.

Go ahead, punk. Make my day.

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