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Secret Window

Let's all stand up on a really tall box and give three cheers for advertising that doesn't mislead. Because if we do that, maybe people will realize that we get annoyed when their ads aren't trustworthy.

I'm always hearing people say that you can't judge a film by the trailer. To some extent, this is of course true: I've seen good trailers for lousy movies, and vice-versa. But for the most part, we have to judge a film by its trailer, because we aren't going to go see every single damned film that comes out. We have to have some standard by which to decide what we do and don't think we'll enjoy seeing, and the trailer is there for the express purpose of being judged. If we aren't achingly familiar with the writer or director, the trailer is our best option for making an informed choice.

As you may have surmised by now, I found the trailer for Secret Window to be lacking in some core honesty. Every TV spot I saw mentioned the protagonist's writings (he's a novelist) to be "windows to another world" and ended with a shot of a window pounding violently inwards as the sort of blinding light that effuses from all good aliens and demons bleeds through in copius amounts. So I thought, "Ahh. Ghost movie. Guy unleashes unnameable horrors from some world of the dead and must stop them from pouring forth into our world," or some similar such thing.

In fact, no.

The aforementioned shot of the light-hemmoraging window doesn't even appear in the film. A similar shot of the same thing happening does appear, but it's simply part of a dream sequence. There is, simply put, no supernatural aspect to the film at all. It's a psychological thriller, and not a ghost flick. So if you're in the mood for a story about the evil dead, watch The Evil Dead, because you're digging in the wrong place here.

The film is adapted from a Stephen King novella by David Koepp and directed by same. Koepp has had some hits and some misses, though frankly, he's had no real grand slams. He wrote the scripts for the first two Jurassic Park films, which of course includes the irritatingly tedious The Lost World. He also did the screenplay for Spider-Man, which was decent enough for its purpose-comic books not being known (by normal, rational people, at least) for their subtlety, and Panic Room was a good thriller with an annoyingly clichéd final scene about boneless people struggling over a gun. As Secret Window's script tells us several times, the ending is the most important part of the story, an assertion which I'd have to say I largely agree with. The ending here doesn't, I will say right off, have anything so annoying in it as some people flopping on the floor trying to pick up a firearm, but it's not completely satisfying, somehow. The first scene is great. The first scene draws you right the hell in. As the remainder of the film contains a lot of scenes with Johnny Depp and John Turturro, it's not exactly hard to watch, either. Turturro shows up at the lakeside cabin of Mort Rainey, a novelist going through a messy divorce, with some angry charges of plagiarism. Rainey denies the charges, and Turturro's John Shooter begins to slowly terrorize his nemesis. It's fortunate that the leads are so engaging, because the "crazy stalker" premise has some pretty well-established tropes, and we get to see most of them herein.

The content of the story is almost secondary to Depp's performance, which carries the whole film from beginning to end. He's something of a jerk, and we like him anyway, which takes a good actor. Taken as a character piece, the film works pretty well, and helps with the fact that the main thrust of the plot, i.e. the issue of who plagiarized whom, isn't terribly important in the end. King has always been good at writing characters and scenarios, and has a weakness with endings, which is unfortunate in a film which keeps reminding us of the importance of the final scene. It's not that there's anything particularly wrong with the ending (which isn't exactly the same ending as the book's), though it's not entirely pleasant, or necessarily what we want to see. It's mostly that I can, without even trying, think of at least three other recent films that have included the same final twist. I would've been much more impressed and surprised by this film if it had come out ten years ago. Nowadays, I tend to want my crazy psychological thrillers to be really crazy, Mulholland Drive crazy, because they otherwise tend to feel like retreads; it's what comes of seeing so damn many movies.

This isn't to say that I didn't enjoy myself, just that I didn't enjoy myself as much as I would've hoped, an all-too familiar feeling. I'd probably watch it again, and it's entirely possible that you won't guess the ending beforehand. It's just that it's also entirely possible that you might. It depends a great deal on you, and what other films you've already seen, as to how much fun you'll have.

Plus, there's the fact that I was expecting to see a film about a haunting. Stupid, stupid ad wizards.

-review by Matt Murray

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