Secret Window is based on the Stephen King novella Secret Window, Secret Garden. It’s about Mort Rainey, an established fiction writer who discovers that his wife of 10 years is cheating on him. Six months later, we see the scruffy, bespectacled Mort holed up in a remote, lakefront cabin struggling with both writer’s block and the fact that his beloved Amy is trying to get him to sign divorce papers so that she can start a new life with her lover, Ted.
Amid this stress, a peeved Southerner named Shooter shows up on Mort’s doorstep accusing him of plagiarism. Shooter produces a manuscript identical to one of Mort’s published works. Although Mort is convinced he didn’t steal the man’s story, he can’t deny the bizarre coincidence, so he sets out to prove his innocence and protect himself against this obsessed stranger. Shooter insists that Mort fix the tale’s ending and give him credit, terrorizing him and leaving a trail of death before an inevitable showdown foreshadowed in the book’s final chapter.
The ugly, painful realities of infidelity and divorce play out before our eyes. In spite of Amy’s determination to end their marriage, Mort refuses to sign papers finalizing the split, hoping she’ll come to her senses and try to work things out. He argues that a wedding ring symbolizes a permanent commitment. Mort is ashamed of a past dalliance with plagiarism that he and Amy have managed to keep a secret.
Mort barges in on Amy and Ted in bed together in a motel room. Later, she and Ted kiss. In a flashback, Mort playfully sees his working wife off in the morning by pretending to be an escort service employee who wasn’t paid enough for his services the night before. Upon learning that Mort and Amy are in the midst of a divorce, Detective Karsche asks him, “Did you nail one of your groupies?”
Violent threats. A little pushing and shoving between Mort and Ted (who injures his hand after punching a car window). Mort even attacks Shooter with a shovel before the man turns the tables on him. But all of that pales in comparison to murders, either shown, implied or glimpsed in flashback. Shooter kills Mort’s dog with a screwdriver. That weapon is later driven into the side of a man’s head. A character gets killed with a hatchet to the stomach (bloody). Another is smacked in the face with a shovel, then finished off out of frame. It’s implied that a woman is beaten to death. After being attacked with a pair of scissors, Amy gets stabbed in the leg. A car containing two bodies is sent careening off a cliff and into the lake. An arsonist burns Mort and Amy’s house to the ground.
More than 40 profanities. Half are s-words. Koepp takes advantage of his one, PG-13-allotted f-word. Other offensive language includes anatomical slang and a half-dozen exclamatory uses of the Lord’s name (“my g–,” “g–d—,” “Jesus,” etc.)
Mort has a difficult time quitting smoking. He says he doesn’t smoke, yet can’t resist grabbing a cigarette to help him deal with stress. Specific brands are mentioned by name, with those products/labels getting screen time: Shooter also smokes. Mort has a history of drinking Jack Daniels.
From a distance, the audience sees and hears Mort urinating.
In the wake of Pirates of the Caribbean, Johnny Depp’s box-office clout is as high as ever. So is his appeal among teens. That’s too bad, because Secret Window will attract young fans, yet pushes violence and language about as far as it can and still avoid an R rating. For example, I’ve reviewed numerous films in which characters have been stabbed in the head. (Call it an occupational hazard.) This may be the first one that lingered on a guy pulling a sharp object out of a man’s temple. All things considered, that moment made me squirm more. But because the camera work left most gory details to the imagination, it passed muster with the MPAA.
Inappropriate language and violence notwithstanding, the first three-quarters of the film work well as a thriller. What helps is a tight screenplay by director David Koepp (whose writing credits include Spider-Man, Panic Room, Mission: Impossible and the first two Jurassic Park movies). Depp is very effective as the author emasculated both romantically and professionally, forced to fight for the only things he really cares about—his marriage and his reputation. However, while this grim story may find acceptance with viewers who’ve been wronged by an unfaithful spouse and need a brutal catharsis, others will be disturbed by the way this mystery gets resolved with its twisted sense of moral justice.