First Cinema Knife Fight Ever! – SECRET WINDOW
(BLAST FROM THE PAST DEPARTMENT: Well, since we’ve posted all of our Fear Zone columns here, it’s time to go even further back into the past to our columns for the horror newsletter HELLNOTES. This particular review is the very first Cinema Knife Fight ever! From way back in 2004! Boy, have things changed since then! ~LLS)
CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT # 1 – SECRET WINDOW
by Michael Arruda & L.L. Soares
MA: Hi. I’m Michael Arruda. I write the movie review column for the HWA Newsletter, IN THE SPOOKLIGHT.
LS: And I’m L.L. Soares, and I’ve written movie reviews for a bunch of places, including DVD RESURRECTIONS and WEIRD TIMES.
MA: CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT is a new review column in which we’ll both examine the world of horror movies.
Today we begin with the new Johnny Depp movie, SECRET WINDOW (2004).
SECRET WINDOW, based upon the 1991 Stephen King novella “Secret Window, Secret Garden,” tells the story of writer Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp) who is going through a very painful divorce process with his wife Amy (Maria Bello). Rainey has moved out of his house and now lives in a secluded cabin in the woods. One morning he is visited by a man named John Shooter (John Turturro) who accuses him of stealing one of his stories.
Rainey immediately denies it, but Shooter insists he prove it, and as the movie goes on, Rainey discovers that Shooter is an unsavory character who will stop at nothing to prove that Rainey stole his story. This leads to a series of shocking acts, building up to the film’s violent conclusion.
While the directing, writing, and acting in the film is all topnotch, the first problem I had with SECRET WINDOW is that it doesn’t contain much of a secret. I determined pretty much in the opening frame of the movie where the story was going to go, and what kind of plot twist we were to expect, so for me, that kind of ruined the movie.
(Strange voice with Southern accent): “Excuse me, Mistah Arruda, you stole my review.”
MA: What? Where’s L.L.? Who are you?
LS (Takes off black wide-brimmed hat): It’s just me.
Well, I agree that the “twist” ending is not all that much of a surprise. But I disagree that it ruins the movie. The big reason to see this one is for Johnny Depp. The guy can outact just about everyone in his generation and has already proven in the past that he can make an otherwise mediocre movie watchable. The thing is, I liked SECRET WINDOW. It’s a fun little thriller, and Depp makes it enjoyable, imbuing Mort with lots of personality and some interesting quirks. This is a three-dimensional character. It’s also the case of an actor improving the quality of a movie with relative ease, preventing it from being the run-of-the-mill horror story it could have been if someone less capable had played the lead.
John Turturro is no slouch, either. While he may have less screen time than Depp, he makes every minute of his part count, and the scenes when he’s tormenting Depp are the most enjoyable parts of the film.
The ending may not knock your hat off, but the fun is getting there in the first place.
And there’s humor in this film, too. I thought Depp’s scenes with Turturro had a real sense of dark comedy to them, and I laughed out loud at the “Redrum” moment in the movie. If you’ve seen it, you know exactly what I mean.
MA: Let me take a moment to recover my senses and let my heartbeat slow down. You really scared me there. You do a good John Turturro.
I agree with you about the acting. Depp and Turturro are both wonderfully creepy. I’ll even take it a step further and say that Maria Bello as Amy Rainey more than holds her own with these two actors throughout the film. She nails the wife’s emotions. And then you have Timothy Hutton who also does a bang-up job. To me, the acting is by far the best part of SECRET WINDOW and the reason to see it, but unlike you, I don’t feel it’s enough to save the movie.
It’s painfully obvious where the movie is going and what the “twist” is going to be. Did you know early on? I’m sure you did. Once you know that, it’s just an excuse to have Johnny Depp do this thing. Save yourself the money and see PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN instead. Depp’s better in that, and there’s a far better payoff in the end.
LLS: PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN? I thought this was a horror movie column. And why are you wearing those Mickey Mouse ears? That’s almost as scary as Turturro’s hat!
Actually, I thought Maria Bello’s character was kind of annoying and I couldn’t understand why Depp was wasting so much time pining away for her. I thought it would have been funnier if they had his real ex, Winona Ryder, in the role. Or even Kate Moss. At least that would have added some real tension to the movie. But you’re right about Timothy Hutton, some of Depp’s scenes with him are pretty funny, especially their run-in at the gas station. Watch out for that car window!
Listen, I don’t think this is a great movie, but it kept me entertained and I wasn’t wasting too much time worrying about whether the ending would be clever or not. I actually thought the ending that bothered you so much was kind of part of the joke. I just dug it for what it was. It’s a fun little showcase for Depp, and I think that’s good enough to recommend it. If nothing else, it’s at least worth a video rental.
MJA: You’re right about Maria Bello’s character. She is annoying, and that’s what worked for me. And PIRATES OF THE CARRIBEAN IS a horror movie.
LLS: (pulls out a machete). Let’s discuss this some more…
(First published in the HELLNOTES newsletter dated April 22, 2004)
© Copyright 2004 by Michael Arruda and L.L. Soares