1408 My Reviews 08 MAR 2008

1408 The Dolphin Hotel invites you to stay in any of its stunning rooms. Except one.

Mike Enslin (John Cusack) is a talented horror author who found success in his books on debunking supernatural phenomena. His latest book aims at demystifying the various haunted houses of America and to do this he spends at least one night in the haunted locale, writing on the experience and in essence destroying the haunted house’s credibility. For the last chapter of his book he has selected the notorious Room 1408 of the Dolphin Hotel, situated in downtown New York as his final target and despite the Dolphin Hotel’s manager, Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson) best attempts at dissuading him, Mike gets his chance to spend a night in Room 1408.

Room 1408 has a terrifying history of death and mutilation associated with it, all documented and available for perusal as Mike is soon to find out. Of course, being the natural sceptic that he is, he wastes no time in casting aside all the spooky stories and claptrap that he has been fed and settles down to the business of enjoying a nice quiet nice in what appears to be a perfectly normal room. For now. As it is, it would seem that the demonic rumours surrounding this room may not just be rumours after all – and Mike is in for one Hell of a ride that he will never forget! That is of course if he survives the ordeal in the first place…

1408, the horror story about a reporter in a hotel room is based on one of Stephen King’s many horror-themed short stories and although perhaps nowhere near the class of the Shining (which also takes place in a haunted hotel), it proves to be quite a solid adaptation that captures the true feel of Stephen King’s work, stressing the psychological breakdown and stresses that Stephen King weaves so well into his work instead of shooting for the standard horror and gore that other adaptations of his work go for.

Mikael Hafstrom is the man behind the camera for this film, and to date, the only film he has ever directed that you may of heard of here in South Africa or even the rest of the English-speaking world is 2005’s clever thriller, Derailed that starred Clive Owen and Jennifer Aniston. I’m not familiar with his Swedish films, but I can say that I was extremely impressed with his grasp on creating mood, tension and pull the full range of emotions out of an actor that essentially doesn’t leave a room and has to interact with a ton of CG effects.

As to the actors themselves, Samuel L. Jackson is as polished as ever, delivering his role with the menace and atmosphere that you’ve come to expect from this master actor, while Mary McCormack plays the role of the estranged wife with similar ease. That said, both of these actors have basically no screen time what so ever, and the movie should probably only have billed John Cusack as the main actor in this flick. I’ve always been a John Cusack fan, despite the fact that he only ever seems to pitch up in romantic dramas and comedies, but it is in 1408 that his ability really comes to fore. Essentially he carries the entire movie on his shoulders and as an actor he manages to grab your attention and holds it for the duration of the movie, which is quite a feat if you think that he is basically in ever single shot! The range of emotions he takes us through and the way he progresses through an entire mental and emotional psychological breakdown is masterful and his performance completely immerses you in this twisted tale that may, or may not, play out entirely in his mind.

Visually, it is surprising just how much scene changes you go through considering every sequence plays out in the same room. The lighting for most part is quite sharp and full of contrasts, helping to create a very striking image which helps fuel the otherworldliness of this ‘realm’. Of course, without a copious amount of special effects and CGI, this movie wouldn’t be able to even exist and it is masterful how Hafstrom combines all these different elements into something that appears extremely seamless and polished on the screen. He employs some clever camera tricks as well, proving to be particularly effective in messing with the audience’s mind.

However, despite the crisp visuals, fantastic and sometimes creepy scene changes, it is on the audio side that 1408 really shines. It makes clever, full use of just about every trick in the book when it comes to manipulating sound through the cinema surround sound system to induce a truly creepy and paranoid atmosphere, combining seamlessly with an exceedingly cleverly picked soundtrack of haunting pieces of music and snippets of pop tunes cleverly manipulated right to the edge of distortion, messing with your head every step of the way.

And that is the very thing about 1408. The cramped environment, the constant focus on Mike Enslin and a atmosphere of really anything could happen next, combined with the constantly ticking timer that is slowly running out makes for a tense psychological thriller that keeps you on your toes and keeps you guessing. However, therein lies its weakness as well. Because of the constant focus on Mike, there isn’t room for any side or disposable characters, meaning much of the horror that could be 1408 is never truly realised. The low age restriction doesn’t help because much of the fear and dread this movie is meant to install is defanged because of the lack of true violence or shock tactics. And lastly, because of the limitations of the entire story taking place in one room, the strange happenings of the room need to expand to such unbelievable proportions that the movie at the end of the run appears almost a fantasy movie instead of a thriller.

It is a pity really because John Cusack gives a stellar performance throughout the movie and the first half of the movie serves to create really chilling and haunting atmosphere, only to be wasted as the story runs out of ideas and ultimately ends in very much the way you expected it to, fizzling out at the end.

1408 looks great, it sounds great, it messes with your head a lot but ultimately it is too polished, and the low age restriction defangs it so much that we are left with something which could have been that much more. It is a good adaptation of Stephen King’s writing elements, but the concept is too short to make a full length movie and despite its streamlined presentation, you are going to walk out a little disappointed at the end of it all (even if the vindicating finale leave a few shivers down your spine).

This movie is perhaps best suited to people who are not fans of the psychological horror thriller in the least, but need to sit through a little of this genre to please their partners who are big fans of these type of movies (like Chantelle and myself. That lame-ass Disturbia was almost too much for me, so I’m glad this was a little easier on my nerves for a change!)..

Not bad, but not enough to rave about I’m afraid.

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Related Link: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0450385/

About Craig Lotter

South African software architect and developer at Touchwork. Husband to a cupcake baker and father to two little girls. I don't have time for myself any more.