We know what scares Stephen King. That most prolific of writers is still terrified by an empty computer screen, or, even worse, a screen with writing that is unfixably bad. And that author whose imagination has kept millions of happily terrified readers up all night is still scared of losing control of that imagination or having it disappear completely.
And so in this movie, King gives us our hero — Morty (Johnny Depp), like King a write of scary stories. And our villain, a menacing man in a broad preacher’s hat, who says that his name is John Shooter and that Morty has stolen his story.
Living in a remote cabin after splitting with his wife, Morty mostly mopes and sleeps. He loves his adorable dog and he literally won’t hurt a mouse.
But he can’t seem to get back to work. The best he can do is delete what he has already written. And then there is a knock at the door.
Now that we have our sensitive and vulnerable hero, and our eerily knowing menace, all of the traditional thriller elements follow: the red herring, the seemingly ineffectual sheriff and the seemingly powerful ally, the property damage, the shocking deaths, the framing of the hero for the crimes, the creepy music, the tight close-ups that keep us from knowing what’s outside the frame, and of course, the a-ha moment.
It all feels recycled and re-recycled. Depp is always wonderfully watchable and he seems to be enjoying Morty’s long solo scenes as a sort of on-camera acting exercise. There are a couple of tingly reveals and creepy fake-outs, but overall it’s just too familiar, especially for fans of this genre. John Shooter tells Morty that his story needs a better ending. So does this movie.
Parents should know that the movie has a great deal of tension, peril, and brief graphic violence, with grisly dead bodies. Characters are injured and killed. An animal is killed and a house is torched. There are sexual references and situations, including adultery and brief language that is stronger than most PG-13s. Characters smoke and drink and there is a reference to alcohol abuse.
Families who see this movie should talk about the clues that indicate what the final twist will be, including the very first scene and the scene in the bathroom. Why is it important that Morty had a past experience with a charge of plagiarism?
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy The Shining, Swimming Pool (mature material), and Identity.