Mike Enslin is a writer who’s sort’ve at a crossroads in his life. He currently writes books based around haunted locations across the country and his current book is about haunted hotels. He gets a mysterious tip in the mail about a hotel in New York City called The Dolphin and not to stay in room 1408. Obviously this piques his interest and he does what he can to get a reservation in the room, even with all sorts of warnings not to do so, with some of the most convincing coming from the hotel manager himself, basically telling Mike that nobody usually lasts for the first hour, telling him that it is an evil room. Mike of course is insistent on staying there, and he checks in, and within minutes, the terror does indeed begin.
And that’s trying to be as vague as I can be about the new horror/suspense movie 1408 from director Mikael Hafstrom. This is adapted from a story by Stephen King and while I’ve never read the story, it sure feels like it has all the hallmarks of his work- the slant on writing, the creepiness of hotels and the dark personal secrets that we all have that sometimes lead to the greatest horrors of all. This is an extremely well-made film, very well paced and certainly well-performed. It has a great look to it, with one of the stars of the movie just being the room itself, which at times seems to me to carry some sort of similarities to how David Lynch lights rooms that he films in. Most of the visual effects in this film don’t have that CGI “flash” to them and instead almost feel more theatrical or somewhat “cheap” but that hardly meaning that it looks bad, on the contrary, I think the effects work quite well here.
1408 stars John Cusack as Enslin and this is really a tour-de-force for Cusack, especially for the period that he’s in the room because for the most part, he’s the only one there and he has to sell this well in order for you to buy into it, and he does. He’s perfectly cast for this, with both his cynical wit and an everyman quality, he brings this home very well. Samuel L. Jackson is the manager of the Dolphin, and he’s great too, though don’t go expecting this to be one of his showier roles. The interplay between Cusack and Jackson before Cusack enters the room is really entertaining to watch, these guys play off of each other quite well. Mary McCormack is also in the film playing Enslin’s estranged wife, and she does a fine job too, with a great scene especially at the end of the film.
What you have here is really, really good stuff, and just when you think the film might fall into a trap that you don’t want it to fall into, it rebounds back and gets itself back on the track that it needs to be on. Now with that said though, one has to wonder about certain things: It’s a PG-13 film, and really for what you have here, that’s fine, there’s nothing in the world that says that you can’t make a good effective horror film with a PG-13 rating (last year’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose worked the same way)- but how would it have fared had a less known actor been cast in the lead? Again, don’t get me wrong, John Cusack is absolutely terrific here, but at the core, we know it’s John Cusack performing a role- wouldn’t it’s horror seem a little more extreme if the actor in front of the camera was someone you didn’t readily know? Probably… and as far as I know that could also affect the rating (although there’s multiple factors that go into that as well, more than likely this was contracted to come in at PG-13) Also, Like I said above, I haven’t read the original story, and as is the case with most movies, one wonders if multiple endings weren’t filmed for this. The ending that this film has is, again terrific and horrifying in it’s own way, but one wonders if it could’ve been darker and even more extreme than what it was. I know for a movie like this, I tend to want to want it to go as dark as it can, but that’s just me, and again, don’t get me wrong, this is good stuff… this is just stuff that I think about with a movie like this.
In the end though, 1408 is a great ride with a terrific tour guide in the form of Cusack. Our audience seemed to react to this the way it should, with over to one side of us being a guy who brought in five little kids with him, with most of them being quite scared by the film (and of course causing a disturbance, but nowhere near as bad as it could’ve been). This is good stuff and of course, highly, highly recommended.