**/**** Image B+ Sound A- Extras A
starring Johnny Depp, Maria Bello, Timothy Hutton, John Turturro
screenplay by David Koepp, based on the novella "Secret Window, Secret Garden" by Stephen King
directed by David Koepp
by Walter Chaw Secret Window is a checklist for Stephen King fans in exactly the same way his bloated fiction from the last ten years is a rehash of past material (and like old King material is a rehash of classic EC Comics/"Outer Limits" plots). It's an intensely wearying public window into how a popular writer has taken to auto-consumption and automatic regurgitation when inspiration flags. Typewriter intrigue? "Redrum"-like mantra? Curious wife? Lovable black sidekick dispatched with a hatchet à la Kubrick's The Shining? Check, all. Weird religious iconography, wide-brimmed Amish hats, some sort of sinister cornfield à la Children of the Corn? Surely. Popular writer tortured by an obsessive fan who wants him to write something special, à la Misery? You got it. Mysterious alter-ego nom de plume that appears to have been made manifest à la The Dark Half? Uh huh. Murdered pet and secluded woodland retreat à la Pet Sematary? Even that. Country mouse à la The Green Mile? Believe it or not. In fact, the only thing about Secret Window that doesn't stink of the King perpetual mimeograph machine (The Tommyknockers, "Ballad of the Flexible Bullet") is Johnny Depp's sly comic timing and the smooth direction by Stir of Echoes hyphenate David Koepp.
Secret Window seems to know, at least Depp and co-star John Turturro seem to know, that it belongs to a specific genre of slick Stephen King camp garbage and so plays it for broad yuks/yucks and the occasional jump scare. Koepp's camera is fluid and his use of flashback unusually adroit, but the material is so derivative and weak that while there's a technical appreciation for how a reasonably skilled director (and game cast) can make less fragrant compost out of the mulch of King's portfolio, the aggregate effect is something like indulgent weariness. Reminding a little of Roman Polanski's The Ninth Gate, another misfire adaptation featuring Depp, Secret Window can be mined for positives now and again, though the greater question is why folks who have demonstrated relatively good judgment in the past equivocated themselves into a dimwit pot-boiler.
Mort (Depp) is going through a divorce. A writer of crime fiction given to long naps, Jack Daniels, and furtive Pall Malls, he finds himself holed away in his and wife Amy's (Maria Bello) country house, pecking away at a new story, though the urgency for one is never established. A blind puppy provides comic reaction shots while the picture treads water until conflict in the form of psycho-cracker John Shooter (Turturro, playing the evil twin of his O Brother, Where Art Thou? character) shows up around script-page fifteen (somebody's been reading his Syd Field) to accuse Mort of plagiarism and intimate that something wicked this way's coming if Mort doesn't "fix" the story's ending. The film thus effectively ends with all of its cards on the table twenty minutes in--a "fixer" character (Charles S. Dutton), the wife's boyfriend (The Dark Half star Timothy Hutton), and local colour (Len Cariou) pretty much kill time until what we know already is finally revealed: the tragedy of adapting an overlong novella into a feature-length picture.
Not content with just aping King's material, Koepp references David Fincher's Panic Room (which Koepp wrote) in his fluid, architectural camera movements and Psycho in a rearguard descent down a staircase, an identity-bending drag twist, a concealment in a body of water, and a subtle soundtrack tribute to Bernard Herrmann courtesy composer Philip Glass. Secret Window is a Frankenstein's monster of mismatched parts, a shuddering celluloid chimera that takes the path of past success to easy gain and filthy lucre--a film about plagiarism that plagiarizes the highlights of its own oeuvre with a venal dedication. And while the same charges could arguably be levelled against Stir of Echoes, what separates that film from Secret Window (besides Richard Matheson's source material for Stir of Echoes being far superior) is a willingness to take chances, to refine its pulp elements into something sleek and edged. Was a time, King was capable of the same. Originally published: March 12, 2004.
by Bill Chambers Columbia TriStar releases Secret Window in an unassuming package that's actually loaded to the gills. If the 2.40:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is on the smudgy side, the hefty amount of bonus material both counterbalances and rationalizes its lack of detail. Still, the image isn't a disaster, just rough around the edges, with flat contrast in all but the most sun-kissed shots. The disc's Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is similarly flaccid, for lack of a less corrosive word, although it's worth mentioning that the dialogue was mixed at an optimal level and sounds exceptionally clear. Extras include a feature-length commentary from writer-director David Koepp, who also dominates the video-based supplements and more or less invalidates his yakker therein. Koepp additionally provides optional commentary for two of the four negligible yet intriguing deleted scenes on board, the second of which pays explicit homage to Roman Polanski's The Tenant--an obvious and acknowledged influence on Secret Window--by having Depp step in dog shit. In the final omission, the film's closing shot is restored to its original length, with Koepp pithily explaining the reason for its truncation elsewhere on the platter.
Three Laurent Bouzereau featurettes--"Secret Window: From Book to Screen", "Secret Window: A Look Through It", and "Secret Window: Secrets Revealed"--run a combined total of 63 minutes and are viewable as an untitled collective. Despite that the piece is in the EPK vein at first it is not recommended for Secret Window virgins, since the plot summary quickly gives way to sizeable spoilers. (Meaning its initially condescending approach doesn't even make sense.) Each of the above-the-line players submits to a talking-head, though the only major crewmember interviewed besides Koepp is costume designer Odette Gadoury--a letdown after Koepp portrays DP Fred Murphy and editor Jill Savitt as collaborators in the truest sense within his yak-track. Timothy Hutton--one of the most considerate actors this writer has ever met, for what it's worth--civilizes the proceedings by quoting from John Irving ("You keep passing the open windows"), but Bouzereau doesn't actively encourage such deviations from hype, closing a few open windows of his own along the way: Koepp's confession that he would throw curveballs at Depp and John Turturro just to get mileage out of the high-calibre actors obliges follow-up questions ("Such as?" "Did these kid-in-a-candy-store-isms yield anything useable?") that remain unasked.
Nevertheless, there's fabulous stuff here. While Koepp's implicit dismissal of Euro horror ("I don't think there's much artistry in [actual violence]") pegs him for a killjoy, his willingness to embrace Depp's urge to bleat "Ra! Ra!" (a bit of gibberish that Depp's pre-verbal son would apparently utter during moments of restlessness) at the peak of Mort's confusion suggests there's potential yet for Koepp to amend his journeyman ways. (Precious outtakes meanwhile find Depp impersonating Marlon Brando, Christopher Walken, and Polanski.) Animatics for four sequences (their titles withheld as they tip off a few surprising set-pieces) plus a smattering of ROM-based weblinks and 5.1 trailers for Secret Window, "Seinfeld", Spider-Man 2 (which precedes the main menu as well and, watched in full, really helps to establish a 'night-at-the-movies' atmosphere), Hellboy, White Chicks, 13 Going on 30, "Kingdom Hospital", The Mothman Prophecies, and The Triplets of Belleville round out the disc. Originally published: June 9, 2004.