Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp) is just the kind of tortured addlepated writer you’d expect to find all alone in a backwoods upstate New York cabin in his ubiquitous ratty moth-eaten robe hair disheveled from the couch pillows on which he’s constantly sleeping Jack Daniels bottle lurking conveniently on the coffee table and a blank page in his typewriter. It comes as no surprise that Mort’s been unceremoniously dumped by wife Amy (Maria Bello) whom he found cheating on him in a hotel room with unctuous Ted (Timothy Hutton). Not much for Mort to do then besides rattle around his cabin trying (sorta) to stay awake long enough to pound out a few sentences of his latest work of fiction–until that is a black-hatted good ol’ Southern boy calling hisself John Shooter (John Turturro) shows up on the doorstep accusing Mort of plagiarizing his short story “Secret Window ” several years ago. With only a few days to prove to this Shooter that his story was his own before the guy makes good on his threats to kill everyone Mort knows Mort finds himself with a sticky situation on his hands–literally as pretty soon first his dog then his neighbors start turning up with screwdrivers sticking out of them.
Cast any other actor as Mort and the movie would sink faster than a truckload of bodies in a rock-quarry lake. As it is this is pretty silly horror fluff that barrels headlong into camp territory–but Depp knows it the whole time managing a self-awareness that avoids winking at the audience just enough to pull off some real tongue-in-cheek corkers. As he sinks his teeth into the corny stuff (“This is not my beautiful house. This is not my beautiful wife ” he muses a la the Talking Heads while lurking outside his house now inhabited by Ted and Amy) he proves yet again that he can work miracles with the kind of material he’s given. It’s entirely to his credit that Secret Window ends up a highly entertaining little horror movie. He’s not necessarily to blame however for the pathetic lack of chemistry he has with cuckolding wife Amy. Not only does she dwarf him physically but it’s also next to impossible to believe they were ever into each other despite mushy flashbacks that show them lovingly decorating the cabin or cavorting in their big house in the ‘burbs. Turturro chews the scenery with gusto Hutton is effectively oily and Charles S. Dutton makes a quick but decent turn as Mort’s protective lawyer.
Filmmakers seem to have a hard time successfully translating Stephen King‘s writing to the big screen and have done so with wildly varying results (read: from Shawshank Redemption to Dreamcatcher). But you have to give credit to writer David Koepp (Spider-Man Panic Room) who took on directing duties here for winding up a pretty tight little B-movie that ends up being entertaining in spite of (or perhaps because of) having more ham in it than an Easter dinner. Plus your guess about the “who” in “whodunit” will no doubt be spot-on. Despite all its homespun hokum despite the fact that the entire first third of the movie seems to be a musing on whether Mort can ever get to sleep in peace and despite the fact that the final third of the movie is about as secret as a glass window the blackhearted true-to-King ending still comes as something of a shocker. Kudos goes to the moody understated score by Philip Glass (The Hours) which ramps up the suspense without overwhelming it.