A best-selling author is stalked by a mysterious psychopath in this laborious thriller adapted from a novella by Stephen King. Mort Rainey (Johnny Depp) caught his wife, Amy (Maria Bello), in flagrante with her boyfriend (Timothy Hutton) and is now mired in an acrimonious divorce. She got the house in suburban Riverdale, while he has retreated to their weekend cabin on Tashmore Lake. While Amy is trying to get on with her new life, Rainey is emotionally paralyzed, moping around in Amy's ratty old bathrobe, eating junk food, not writing and stubbornly refusing to sign the divorce papers. And just when it looks as though Rainey's mental state could get no worse, a threatening stranger with a Mississippi drawl appears at the back door. His name is John Shooter (John Turturro) sure it is and he says Rainey stole a story from him. Rainey tells Shooter to get lost, but an ugly sliver of self-doubt is already worming its way into Rainey's brain. Rainey was accused once before of stealing an idea, apparently with some justification, and the worn manuscript Shooter leaves on the porch is identical to Rainey's published short story "Secret Window." Shooter keeps coming back, demanding that Rainey make things right and issuing threats. He goes so far as to kill Rainey's elderly dog with a screwdriver just to clarify the seriousness of his intentions. Rainey eventually does the sensible things calls the police, hires the private investigator (Charles S. Dutton) who handled matters the last time he was threatened by a nut and takes steps to obtain a copy of the magazine in which his story was first published two years before Shooter claims to have written his. But first he dithers around like a half-wit, staying in the isolated cabin long after he should have moved into a hotel, poking around in the dark, screaming like a girl at reflections and shadows and, most disturbingly, arguing with himself. King's "Secret Window, Secret Garden" is the kind of story that defies adaptation; its plot twists hinge on the deceptions of an unreliable narrator and everything that writing tells, movies show. Director David Keopp gives fair warning: The casting of Hutton, who played a King-like writer in THE DARK HALF (1993), hints that this is a variation on a theme. And the flamboyant early shot that glides through the surface of a mirror as though through an open window fairly screams "don't believe everything you see." But the movie's "shock" payoff still feels like a cheap trick.
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