“No one lasts more than an hour.”
Director: Mikael Hafstrom
Cast: John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Mary McCormack
Synopsis: A man who specializes in debunking paranormal occurrences checks into the fabled room 1408 in the Dolphin Hotel. Soon after settling in, he confronts genuine terror.
1408 is an adaptation of a Stephen King short story, so we think we know pretty much where we’re going from the off with this one. John Cusack (True Colors, The Paperboy) is a jaded writer who once wrote insightful novels but, following the death of his daughter and the end of his marriage, is reduced to writing non-fiction hack jobs about haunted houses. His flip and cynical one-liners make him a little difficult to like at first, and it’s only our knowledge that he is going to have the bejesus scared out of him that keeps us on his side.
Samuel Jackson (Pulp Fiction, Django Unchained) is the manager of the hotel in which room 1408, a room so violently dangerous that it is never used, can be found. His clothes and manner are deliberately designed to make you wonder whether he is another of those urbane Lucifer’s presiding over a modern version of hell, and an accident suffered by Cusack shortly before he enters room 1408 also suggests that his character may already be dead, or at least in a coma, and that all that takes place is either Mike Enslin’s purgatory, or the nightmare of his damaged mind (in dreams, houses and hotels are typically considered to represent the dreamer’s subconscious).
The writers of 1408 are clearly aware of the interpretation most active viewers will attach to what takes place, and perhaps their downfall is that they try to play upon — or create — the viewer’s misconception without having anything strong enough to replace it. The film’s climax — in the director’s cut — quickly degenerates into bog-standard horror cliche with briefly-glimpsed ghosts and an obvious angle for a sequel.
Enslin’s journey into hell does have some effective moments, though. The film is full of typical Stephen King-type touches, such as routine objects that suddenly appear or disappear, a glimpse of the real world from the depths of hell (or whatever place Enslin has found himself in), and ghostly encounters with the hotel’s previous unlucky residents. For all the fantastical nature of what happens to Enslin, though, he never seems to suffer anything horrific enough to drive him to carry out the kind of graphic self-mutilation performed by others who lasted for much less time. But then this isn’t really a gory sort of horror film. It devotes as much time combining Enslin’s ordeal with the significant moments of his life as it does trying to frighten the viewer and, for a Hollywood horror, that’s something of a rarity.
While it’s no classic by any means, 1408 is worth a look for anyone seeking something that refuses to follow the well-trodden genre path — and for devotees of King’s oddly unique brand of horror.