The cynical and skeptical writer Mike Enslin writes books evaluating supernatural phenomena in hotels, graveyards and other haunted places, usually debunking the mystery. While writing his latest book, he travels from Los Angeles to New York to spend one night in the Dolphin Hotel’s posessed room 1408, which is permanently unavailable for guests. The reluctant manager Mr. Gerald Olin objects to his request and offers an upgrade, expensive booze and finally relates the death of more than fifty guests over decades in the cursed room. However Mike threatens Mr. Olin, promising to sue the hotel, and is finally allowed to check into the room. Later in the night, he finds that guests of room 1408, once they have checked in, might never leave the room alive.
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
User Reviews: The word "horror" has become increasingly twisted in modern cinema to be equated with paper thin excuses for characters being subjected to senseless violence and various cheap shocks intended to make the audience sporadically jump rather than actually be subjected to an all-consuming sense of overwhelming fear. With that in mind, it is refreshing to see a literary adaptation from Steven King, largely considered the godfather of the modern horror story, which resists falling prey to such trappings, and instead concentrates on generating more carefully thought out scares, preying on deep seated societal terrors. As such, director Mikael Håfström’s 1408 proves a merciful throwback to the days of psychological horror thrillers, concentrating more on the mind than the bile duct, and a solid enough effort to help re-instigate the initial traits of the genre into the modern mainstream.
While the film’s premise of a jaded writer (Cusack) with a haunted past attempting to debunk legendary horrific sites having his cynicism tested by unknown forces surrounding an ominous hotel room with a death toll of 57 may sound implausible out of context, the film’s execution is just intelligent and self-aware enough to make it work. Håfström’s firm and capable directorial hand keeps things suitably grounded in reality when some of the film’s more far-fetched plot points threaten to overwhelm the credibility of the work as a whole (for starters, the question as to why a hotel with such a macabre past would be allowed to continue to operate, let alone have clientele is never addressed, and the ending twist may leave audiences divided as to its effectiveness…). But 1408 looks and feels like such a staunchly quality work that such complaints often disintegrate once the film picks up upon the introduction of the titular room and the viewer is wrapped up by the superbly executed suspense generated throughout.
And while the film does dip rather heavily into conventions of previous similar works (the horrifying events Enslin is subjected to feel almost like a checklist of horror movie plot devices) the element which really makes the film worthwhile and excuses many of the inevitable lapses in logic is the psychological angle, leaving the audience consistently guessing as to whether the paranormal events are actually happening or whether the whole thing is occurring in the protagonist’s feverish mind. While the screenplay varies between cleverly crafted lines and typical horror melodrama, the film proves an intriguing experiment in making use of a single space, and instead of the film being shot primarily in a single room proving limiting, Håfström manages to make it consistently fresh and engaging in its ever- changing state. The uncommonly innovative cinematography adds to the scare factor, as does Gabriel Yared’s musical score, despite its frequent descent into horror cliché.
Despite the film being for the most part essentially a one man show, the inspired casting of John Cusack as Mike Enslin proves the film’s most promising attribute. With only four walls and a floor to interact with for the bulk of the narrative, Cusack’s quirky charisma proves the perfect element to provide a fresh touch to what could have collapsed into commercial formulaic monotony. With a brilliantly tuned, entirely credible rendition of a scarred cynic descending slowly into madness, Cusack resists the temptation to ham it up, and instead remains coolly understated, making it all the more unsettling as his composed exterior slowly unravels. Perfectly delivering many of his character’s wittily verbose lines, Cusack sells the role with a commanding credibility few other actors could have mustered. Samuel L. Jackson also makes a strong impression in his brief scenes, and despite the almost unnecessary inclusion of his character, Jackson makes it worth the audience’s while with a weighty gravitas which perfectly amps up the tension for the ensuing horror. Mary McCormack also does her best as the hideously conventional "distanced wife still attracted to the protagonist" figure, and emerges with a decent performance despite her almost criminally underdeveloped role.
What could have descended into commercial drivel under different circumstances instead proves a surprisingly intelligent and capably crafted psychological thriller, a merciful diversion from the trashy gore-fests inundating cinemas these days. While comparisons to earlier King adaptation The Shining among other works are inevitable, and despite the frequent reliance on formula, somehow new frights are extracted from age-old conventions, and with a strong directorial touch and an endlessly engaging lead performance 1408 proves a gruesomely entertaining bright spark in a fading ember of a genre, one which even the most jaded horror fans can appreciate and enjoy.