A Slowly Engaging Story
Although Johnny Depp brought a strong approach to his character, Mort, Secret Window ultimately doesn’t thrill its viewers…until the end, of course, staying true to its theme that creating a riveting story is “all about the ending.”
The psychological thriller introduces Mort as a struggling writer who caught his wife, Amy (Maria Bello), having an affair with Ted (Timothy Hutton), and delays their divorce six months afterward. He stays cooped up in his cabin on a scenic lake in upstate New York, dealing with writer’s block. His dull depression comes to a screeching halt when creepy farmer John Shooter (John Turturro) accuses Mort of plagiarizing his story verbatim. Though Mort tries to brush the allegations aside, Shooter’s threats grow scarier.
The film succeeds in having a general mysterious and suspenseful undertone, but it gets swept under the rug by a slower build-up that could have been a little more intense. The Shooter character isn’t that scary; he’s actually kind of an insult to Southerners if looking at it that way with the drawl he relies on to sound perturbing. Not only that, but also the black hat and the rigid stance just don’t allow the Shooter character to stand out as a frightening antagonist. Obviously though, the gradual creepiness of Shooter’s actions incorporate a solid sense of anticipation.
Nevertheless, the plot doesn’t succeed in giving its audience enough information to hang onto; we only know Mort got divorced from Amy and he’s jealous of her new relationship, and we notice that he’s an odd dude for the most part through his minor mannerisms while at home—all alone.
What makes this movie worth the watch then? It’s simple: Depp. It all goes down to him. Depp brought his audience a character that was so easily misunderstood to be the weak, downtrodden stay-at-home writer when he really has that darker secret underneath.
Ultimately, his portrayal is convincing to the point where most of us actually think Mort is either pathetic or we feel sorry for him (depending on the viewer’s perception, that is). And since we know Depp as the hilarious, clumsy Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean, the audience can’t help but laugh at a few of Depp’s cross-eyed, strange actions as Mort. However, you didn’t have to watch Pirates to have a few laugh-out-loud moments here, as Depp’s performance is pretty relatable as the seemingly innocent oddball who unfortunately got cheated on by his wife.
The great reveal at the end is also a sight to see for horror and thriller fans. While some viewers have enough experience with these films to guess how Secret Window would end, it’s still pretty riveting to see just how quickly the tables turn on Amy. As Mort comes to grips with the truth, we have to catch up with the storyline as fast as we can, which is an overall engaging tactic for the audience.
However, the really fascinating moment is the ending when Depp has a noticeable switcheroo, completely unlike how he’d been throughout the course of the film. But this is mainly the post-ending where we see this, not the thrilling climax.
While Secret Window has its edge-of-seat-worthy moments, it still lacks a solid plot. The story contains quite a few potholes, such as how the whole town dramatically changes its perception of Mort. This could have been teased even more than it already was when Mort’s private investigator, Karsch (Charles S. Dutton), mentions that Tom Greenleaf never saw Mort and Shooter having a conversation. Leaving a longer yet subtle trail of breadcrumbs for the audience goes a long way, and Secret Window could have been stronger had it been built with this framework.
Secret Window (2004) Official Trailer