Worth A Look: 31.25%
Pretty Bad: 9.82%
Total Crap: 9.82%
6 reviews, 76 user ratings
by David Hollands
****THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS****It's a pretty bad sign when the best part of a movie is the ending. But as Johnny Depp's character Mort Rainey says in the catastrophic failure Secret Window at one point, "the only thing that matters is the ending". It would seem, quite unfortunately, that that was the primary source of concentration for writer/director David Koepp. The ending to this film is a force of nature, a wonderfully twisted and graphic conclusion that makes one weep that the first eighty minutes of the flick couldn't be at the same level.
"Written and directed by David Koepp...boy, do I feel depressed right now."
I am at a loss as to what could have possibly happened here, being that Koepp had dealt in the horror/suspense genre before with the astoundingly creepy Stir of Echoes. In the roughly five years since Koepp last directed, it would seem that he just lost something; maybe he just took too much directly from the story (which is just a theory, since I haven't read the Stephen King novella), or maybe he was just so much in the dark about how to execute a story of this nature, that he just threw all his apparent talent out some secret window in his subconscious.
Secret Window is the story of Mort Rainey, who's having his fair share of problems: his wife is cheating on him, his latest writing project is going nowhere, and he has a malicious Amish redneck with huge and distracting top hat named John Shooter after him with charges of plagiarism. It would seem that Shooter is correct in accusing Mort of plagiarism, because the story Shooter wrote is almost completely similar to one Mort had published. As the movie ploughs forward with great difficulty, Shooter's attacks on Mort, both personal and physical, increase to fever pitch levels.
David Koepp's screenplay is so completely airless, that it's like one is inside a plastic bag that's constantly closing in - in short, it really isn't much of anything. Every twist in this movie can be predicted as easy as one's eyes flickering down to stare at one's finger. Koepp even rips off an M. Night Shyamalan-esque twist ending, which I find to be completely jaw-dropping, given that Koepp completely one-upped Shyamalan with Stir of Echoes, which had a similar story line to M. Night's bland The Sixth Sense, yet was executed much more creatively. Since the film follows through exactly as we expect it to, there's just no suspense. If the plot twists were an invading country, we'd see them coming some two months before the invasion even started.
This movie is one that suffers from short story adaptation syndrome - there really isn't that much of a good story for a ninety minute movie here. Aside from maybe one or two moments when things even have a slight possibility of heating up, there follows about thirty minutes where some banal event occurs, like the forced love triangle which consists of him, his soon to be ex-wife, and her new-found love, or the occasional dumb discovery of a body. Also, with boring gaps that huge, one can easily start to pick apart several extreme logic holes, the main one being, if there is actually a John Shooter who's quite threatening, why does the Rainey character insist on staying in his cabin all alone, considering that his dog had been murdered and his wife's house burnt to the ground? Yes, I realise that there is a twist, but it really doesn't erase this flaw. For when a certain character is sane and oblivious to his diabolical other half, he would have naturally followed that course of action unless he had the brain of a fruit fly.
Other questions do surface as well. Like during the conclusion. Why is it that the police officer who approaches Mort at the film's conclusion, and explains that he's pretty much screwed because the law will discover evidence against him in time, never even thought to check the sudden appearance of a small growth of corn in Mort's backyard? I know that he would need a warrant to do that sort of thing, but given the disappearance of a former ex-wife and her lover, and an obvious motive that even a three-year old can figure out, one could easily be obtained. Sure, it's a lovingly grisly ending, but it is also one of the most flawed in years. And doesn't corn take more than a few months to fully grow? Given that it looked like fall throughout most of the film, this would mean that the police let Mort do his business for nearly a full year!
Then comes the issue of the execution of the twist. Predictability is one thing, but telling the audience everything? That's sheer stupidity. Literally, when Mort discovers that he, in fact, has a severe alternate personality issue, this personality appears to him and explains just about everything. There are flashbacks as well, sometimes to events that we hadn't even seen or heard prior. That's just downright cheating, and the laziest thing a filmmaker can do.
Then, there are these asinine "hints" throughout the film that hit one over the head like a sack of concrete. For one thing, Mort basically reads the ending of the film to the audience in the first twelve minutes from a novel he wrote, which isn't the wisest thing to do. It spoils the best part of the film. Then comes all these other clues, like Koepp passing the camera through a mirror, supposedly real characters making references to things in Mort's head that they couldn't possibly have known otherwise, Rainey mishearing things...the clues come so obviously, that there's simply no mystery here. Couldn't Koepp have changed the film around so that it actually was an honest mystery rather than yet another modern "twist" ending movie? Shooter is an interesting character, despite how horribly he's played, and I would have loved to see what else could have been done with this character beyond the "he was all made up" shtick.
The movie relies on Mort Rainey's interior monologues most of the time, which never work. Mort sitting alone either talking to himself externally or internally never comes off in a convincing manner. It really doesn't help that Koepp's dialogue is sh*t. It's quite sad that Mort questions his writing at one point, and deletes it because he feels it is "just bad writing", when the particular script draft Koepp used for the film could have used a pretty good deletion itself. Whenever characters speak, it never sounds natural. It distracts and reminds the audience that they are watching a film, something that should never happen during a "suspenseful thriller".
Things could have been somewhat bearable had Koepp actually appeared to give a d*mn about giving the audience a nerve-jangling ride. But no, what we get here is a lazy, weightless, boring directorial style that wouldn't even entice Lucio Fulci. When scenes aren't lumbering about like they weigh a thousand pounds, they're being poorly shot. The camera never seems to be in the right place during any scene, be it dialogue, suspense, or revelation. That's extremely surprising, given that Koepp is moving his camera around in seemingly creative ways. But every tracking shot, every whip pan and complicated CGI one-take come off as complete style over substance. Koepp's direction never benefits the story, and distracts from the onscreen action.
Every suspense sequence plays out in the most obvious way possible, with the camera either being too wide, or improperly placed to give us the correct jolt. Speaking of jolts, this movie unfortunately resorts to jump scares to shake some life into the audience. Now, I'm not against using jump scares, because when they work, they work like a motherf*cker! Here, they don't. Either the music starts swelling way too early, or the jump itself just isn't loud enough, but none of them work even a little.
The performances are also terrible. Johnny Depp, however, owns his role. Depp steels the film out from under the cast, and with a glee that is unfortunately missing from all the other aspects of the film. Depp never just plays himself when he acts. Rather, he finds the character in a way that always works in his and our favour. The same can't be said for the horrific John Turturro. Whenever the Shooter character appears onscreen, it's obvious that David Koepp intended that there be tons of suspense present. That unfortunately isn't the case, because Turturro hams it up big time. How can we really be scared by someone who's similar to a clown? How can we possibly feel in any way scared when we can obviously see that there isn't a maniac in the scene at all, just an actor who's putting on one Hell of an overblown show? Maria Bello and Tim Hutton are bored to death, and it shows. Really, so are we.
The cinematography was done by veteran Fred Murphy, easily one of the best in the business. I was sure surprised that Murphy's signature style (lighting that is incredibly beautiful and atmospheric) just didn't seem to be present here. What we do get is a pretty bland looking film, the only strong colour being...well, there really is no strong colour in this film. It shocks me to say this, but this may very well be Murphy's first lazy or sub par job. Even the scenes which take place at night lack that special touch, and shockingly, Murphy even over-lights those sequences so there are hardly any shadows or areas of darkness. There isn't a creepiness factor lighting-wise that can help this film. Every bit of lighting here is done in the laziest way possible, which is a huge disappointment.
Secret Window features a musical score by Philip Glass, Geoff Zanelli, and Alan Elliot. It is bland. There a few nice touches here and there, but the score is either too obvious, or not bombastic enough. It feels lazy throughout the movie, and it never elevates the material beyond sub par. The score can't handle the jump scare moments, because instead of bursting in on the audio track to truly startle, the music builds to the jump, to the point where we just know when, where and how the jump itself will occur.
There is one other little good thing about the film. That's the final five minutes, in which Koepp seems to come alive and unleashes everything he has. Johnny Depp goes insane and attacks both Tim Hutton and Maria Bello in pretty violent fashion. This is one Hell of a gleefully disturbing set of sequences, and one can just see the smile on Koepp's face as characters get hit and decapitated with shovels, have their heads smashed with rocks, and finally become buried under corn which is then eaten. It's the best way to end a film like this. The ending, however, is only about five minutes, which is hardly enough time to save a film filled with eighty-five minutes of disappointing boredom.Secret Window is a huge disappointment. This is truly sad given that Koepp showed so much talent in his previous directorial efforts. While it seems almost impossible for Depp to give a bad performance, the film itself just can't be salvaged by a few scattered good elements. The movie is boring, obvious, and with a concept hardly explored enough to even be considered remotely interesting. If you somehow find a window that is in any secret in your house, make sure it is truly a secret, and then hide this movie in there and forget about it. Aside from the ending, it'll be the most satisfying thing that ever happened to you.
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originally posted: 01/05/05 15:06:12