Stephen King Horror-Thon: Secret Window (2004)

Some windows should never be opened.

Secret Window is a psychological horror film based on Stephen King’s novella Secret Window, Secret Garden from his 1990 short story collection, Four past Midnight. The adaptation was written and directed by sci-fi filmmaker David Koepp, who also wrote Jurassic Park (1993), Mission: Impossible (1996), and Spider-Man (2002).

Secret Window follows author Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp) who is going through a messy divorce, while simultaneously dealing with increasingly violent confrontations from another author, John Shooter, who is accusing Mort of plagiarizing his short story “Sowing Season.” Both stories are eerily similar, except that Shooter’s ending has the protagonist violently murders his wife.

Mort: You know, the only thing that matters is the ending. It’s the most important part of the story, the ending. And this one… is very good. This one’s perfect.

Mort then hires a private investigator to assist with Shooter after Mort discovers his dog was killed the night he was confronted by Shooter. Meanwhile, Mort is determined to prove that he did not plagiarize Shooter’s short story on the grounds that Mort’s story was originally published in a magazine– two years before Shooter’s.

With the star power, talented direction, and source material, Secret Window had a recipe for a more effective thriller than the end result. The thrills in Secret Window, unfortunately, come too infrequently, which is especially daunting considering how much of its run time involves a moody Depp moping around.

Another downfall to Secret Window’s narrative was its sheer predictability, which was due in part to the increasingly popular trope of its ending. SPOILERS: Shortly prior to Secret Window’s debut was the release of Primal Fear (1996), Fight Club (1999), and Identity (2003). All of these thrillers centered on characters who unknowingly suffered from disassociative identity disorder– which added twists and surprises to the film’s plot.

Those who were already keen on this plot device likely found the twists in Secret Window to be unsurprising and uninspired– especially considering the film’s many, many clues that hinted at Mort’s unseen affliction. Mort’s realization in the final act, wherein he argues with himself about his crimes that his other identities committed, even mirrors that of Fight Club’s.

Nevertheless, Secret Window boasts a typically effective Depp in one of his more restrained roles. The dark fantasy actor spends much of the film in aggressive or violent encounters with other characters. Without the crutch of over-the-top makeup and exaggerated eccentric characters that he was known for at the time, Depp is able to show off his acting prowess through the chemistry he creates with other actors– and his menacing transition from pretensions but reserved author to psychotic villain.

Although it wastes its decent set up on a disappointing twist ending, Secret Window’s conclusion (however foreseeable) is a satisfying one. Witnessing Depp’s character be overtaken by his sinister alternate personality is thrilling and makes for an interesting second viewing. For fans of Stephen King’s more slow burning thrillers, Secret Window is worth the price or a rental– given that you’re not expecting the thriller to break any new ground in the genre.

Secret Window” is available on DVD, blu ray, and digital download here on Amazon. And be sure to check out the other entries in the Stephen King Horror-Thon right here on Horror Theory.

Barry Falls Jr
Barry was the managing editor of his university newspaper before contributing as a freelance content creator for Yahoo News and Esquire. He founded Horror Theory in 2014 to analyze horror films through a sociological lens.

Latest articles

Green Room (2015): The Festering Ultra-Violent Rage of ‘Angry White Males’ in Pre-Tr*mp America

It probably is not a coincidence that, in 2016, A24 released their horror-thriller masterpiece Green Room the same month that Republican presidential...

The Invitation (2015): The Spiritual Philosophy of Bereavement and the Cult of Social Civility

Tonight is the night our faith becomes real, reads the tagline for The Invitation, the psychological horror thriller that chronicles the dinner...

We Are Still Here (2015): The Supernatural Dread of Denial, Grief, and Rural Isolationism

There’s a reason why haunted-house films are such a welcomed mainstay in the horror genre. The house as a safe space and...

The Witch (2015): The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy of Puritan Moral Panic and Patriarchal Family Dynamics

The 2010s marked a notable resurgence of religious themes and imagery in horror film. Perhaps most faithful to theological folklore was 2015’s...

It Follows (2014): Sex, Nostalgia, and The Existential Dread of Emerging Adulthood

Sex and horror have been tethered together in film since the genre's beginnings. Horror cinema remains one of the sharpest means for...

Creep (2014): The Nature of Creepiness, Exploited Loneliness, and Fabricated Victimhood

If ever there were an accolade for the most aptly-title horror film, it should undoubtedly go to 2014's Creep, which embodies its...

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISMENT

Related articles

Leave a reply

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

ADVERTISMENT