This paper seeks to identify and examine 'problematic' aesthetic strategies in David Koepp's Secret Window (2004). Arguing that the film fits into a specific 'puzzle film' category favouring self-deceiving protagonists and surprise twists, the paper seeks to account for the negative critical reaction accrued by the film's denouement. Most centrally, I invoke the Russian Formalist's concept of the 'dominant' in order to suggest how Secret Window subordinates textual elements to the film's narrative revelation. It is this prioritising of the main plot twist that accounts for many of the film's dramaturgically contentious tactics. The paper demonstrates the means by which Secret Window cuts against the grain of Hollywood storytelling norms; it suggests that the film manipulates character engagement in a way that exceeds the puzzle film's traditional reshuffling of sympathies; and it indicates how the film deploys generic convention and allusion to engender a highly self-conscious and repressive narration. These arguments aim to show that the film displays bold and sophisticated aesthetic strategies. More broadly, the paper argues that by analysing problematic examples of a film genre, we can usefully disclose the aesthetic principles that underpin the genre's more successful films.
The final, definitive version of this article has been published in the Journal, New Review of Film and Television Studies, 6 (2), 2008, © Informa Plc