You have to love the troika of actor Johnny Depp, author Stephen King, and director David Koepp. Depp immerses himself in every role as if he's being baptized into a new person, King has a mind-boggling imagination which hasn't waned since he was first published, and Koepp successfully scared moviegoers with Stir of Echoes and Panic Room.
It's a shame that Secret Window didn't resonate with audiences when it hit to big screen in March (it coming to DVD in a mere three months of its theatrical release is a pretty good indication of bad box office).
This is one of those movies that can't be plotted out at length in reviews, or too much will be given away. But the basic setup is this: Morton Rainey (Depp) is a slothful but successful horror author who is in the process of a divorce from Amy (Maria Bello), which is complicated by her live-in arrangement in the couple's house with her boyfriend, Ted (Timothy Hutton). Rainey, now living in an isolated lakeside cabin for the past six months and trying unsuccessfully to start a new book, soon finds himself the target of a relentless and dangerous stalker (John Turturro). John Shooter claims that he, too, is a writer and Mort stole his best story idea. He is angry enough about the perceived act of plagiarism, but it's the fact that Rainey changed his "perfect" ending that's really gotten the psycho in a snit. Rainey unequivocally denies the charge, and sets out to get proof of his innocence. It seems easy enough; Morton's story appeared in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine two years before Shooter says he wrote his manuscript. But that proof proves elusive - it has a way of going up in smoke just when it's most needed.
Depp, who never phones in a performance, does have some problems with a telephone in Secret Window. As Rainey suffers through an array of irritations, misfortunes and outright attacks, Depp never lets his character veer out of character. Bello is well-cast as Rainey's estranged but strangely clingy soon to be ex-wife, and Hutton is ideal as the concerned new boyfriend. Turturro, often the go-to guy for quirky comedic roles, is first-rate as he fumes with quiet menace, his harmless looking countenance belied by his aggressive actions. The scenes with Depp and Turturro together are nothing short of electrifying.
I can't tell you too much about the plot without giving it away, but I can tell you about the fun stuff for insiders. There are all kinds of trivia treats for King fans. Throughout the movie you'll see homage paid to The Green Mile, Quitters, Inc., Children of the Corn, and The Dark Half (not only in the storyline, but in an actor: eleven years ago Hutton played Thad Beaumont/George Stark in that film). More perceptive King fans will also note the significance of fishing manuscripts out of garbage cans; wearing braces; a change of eyeglass frame style; Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine; Doritos; and a dog with cataracts. There's even a copy of a Hunter S. Thompson tome on the coffee table as a nod to Depp's portrayal of that writer a few years back in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. There are lots more, but I won't spoil the fun of letting you find them for yourself. (But if you get really stuck, Koepp's brilliant commentary will reveal them all to you -- I missed quite a few myself, the first time around.)
Unfortunately, there are a couple of directorial and stylistic slipups (personally, I think the twist was revealed too soon, and some of the setups could have been slightly altered to aid in suspense) but they are forgivable, especially sitting at home in front of the tube. Perhaps DVD buyers and renters will treat Secret Window for favorably than theater audiences did. It really is a fun little movie.
Be warned: All of the DVD features are loaded with spoilers, and they don't warn you in advance. If you have not seen the film yet, watch it before viewing any of the featurettes!
Audio Commentary by David Koepp, Writer/Director:
Single-person commentaries seldom work for me, but this one is exceptional. Recorded about 10 days before the movie's theatrical release, Koepp predicted it would do "okay". As it turned out it didn't make much more than its budget and interest in the movie steady declined after opening weekend, so it's good to hear an excuse-free commentary from the then-oblivious director. He reveals several secrets and subliminal cues throughout the movie, talks about Depp's contribution to the character, what it's like to adapt from Stephen King, and much more. Great stuff!
1. A LOOK THROUGH IT
2. FROM BOOK TO FILM
3. SECRETS REVEALED
Deleted Scenes with Optional Director's Commentary:
These four scenes really don't add anything, but they're interesting enough to see for their own sake.
1. Opening Titles
2. Pushing Car Off Cliff
3. The Twist Revealed
4. In the Garden
Review by Staci Layne Wilson for Horror.com