Whether tormented by ghosts (The Shining), kidnapped by insane fans (Misery) or tortured by their own ids (The Dark Half), writers get a raw deal in Stephen King's fiction. So it proves in Secret Window, which finds a blocked novelist stalked by a malevolent hick who claims he's ripped off one of his tales.
If you've read any of King's books, or seen any of the gazillion movies based on his work, you already know where this is heading. Menacing notes pinned on the door of the hero's conveniently remote lakeside cabin; a mystery arsonist burning down his estranged wife's house; and the discovery of the writer's pooch with a screwdriver in its throat.
So you really have to ask yourself what Johnny Depp is doing here. Surely after Pirates Of The Caribbean the Oscar-nominated actor could pick and choose his projects? What was it exactly that drew him to such a pile of hokum? That's the biggest mystery in David Koepp's lacklustre psychological thriller, a would-be suspenser that struggles to wring tension and chills from a script where the audience is always a good two steps ahead of the protagonist.
We know something is well out of whack from the opening credits, an ostentatious tracking shot through Depp's cabin that's ultimately revealed to be a mirror image. Just what that something is becomes painfully evident by the second reel. It's not King's fault, mind: when he published Secret Window, Secret Garden in 1991, as part of the Four Past Midnight anthology, each revelation was fresh. Now, an unlucky 13 years down the line, it's been done a thousand times. Anyone who knows movies will know what's coming.
So thank God for Mr Johnny, whose inability to turn in a bad performance extends even to loose, flaccid fare like this. Clad in a shabby dressing gown, Harry Potter specs and hair so distressed it's virtually a tearful heap on the floor, Depp plays his increasingly unhinged character with a sly detachment and tic-laden eccentricity. At least he realises just how ludicrous this whole set-up is, spending the entire movie just one beat away from winking at the audience.