There is a
certain irony (slight, I'll grant you...) to the fact that I am writing a
review of 1408 while in a strange hotel room at night. After
all, as John Cusack's character says, there is something disquieting about
all hotel rooms. You never know who has lived there, who has loved
there, who has died there, what joy was shared or what pain was endured.
Not that I am suggesting
that Room 1204 at the Radisson by the Los Angeles airport is haunted – or
disturbing in any way like Room 1408 in the fictional Dolphin Hotel in
Midtown Manhattan where Cusack is slowly driven towards madness. I
have seen no signs of the supernatural at work here (except for the
mysterious force which stole my complimentary copy of USA Today on
six of the eight mornings I have awoken here.). However, I can relate
to the the fact that when you are in a strange place, far from all that you
know, the sounds are magnified, the atmosphere unusual, the spaces hard to
negotiate in the dark.
1408 is based on a short story by
horror maestro Stephen King. Like any film based on King's writing, it
has some great parts and some stuff that simply doesn't work. However,
1408 turns out to be one of the better film adaptations of King's work
perhaps because it is based on a short story, which gives the screenwriters
room to reach out in different directions and allow the less-dense story
King's fiction does have a tendency to
cannibalize his other work, so it is no great shock that 1408 feels
extremely similar to certain scenes from his classic haunted hotel novel
The Shining – which has been filmed twice itself (as a classic 1980
film with Jack Nicholson and an underrated, more-faithful-to-the-novel
miniseries with Steven Weber). However there is enough story and
interesting chills here, as well as a bravura performance by John Cusack,
which allows this film to stand on its own.
Cusack plays Mike Enslin –
one of King's specialty tortured writers who gets drawn into the
supernatural. When he started, Enslin was a serious literary novelist,
but due to the muted response to his debut novel and some vague personal
tragedies, he has become a hack writer who specializes in travelogues of
haunted hotels. (We are let in on little pieces of the family
strife early on, like the fact that he and his wife are separated and there
is a vague hint of the injury or death of a small child, but we don't learn
any of the specifics until late in the story.).
somewhat ironic because in many ways Enslin is dead himself. He is
totally withdrawn from the rest of the world, his publisher (Tony Shalhoub)
has to treat him with kid gloves, he completely avoids his ex (Mary
McCormack.) He is so disaffected that he doesn't even believe in the
ghost stories with which he makes a living. He just drinks and tries
not to smoke and travels through his Venice Beach neighborhood like the
Everything changes when he receives an
anonymous post card warning about room 1408 in the Dolphin. The hotel
which is familiar with the history, refuses to let anyone rent the room. Enslin has to sue them to be allowed to
stay in the room. Finally the
hotel relents, but not before the manager (Samuel L. Jackson) tries one last
time to talk the writer out of living in the room, explaining everyone who
has stayed there has died within an hour.
doesn't believe it, assuming this is all some theater the hotel uses to
foster a reputation. He locks himself into the room, and at first
there are no problems. Then, slowly, surely, little mysterious things
start happening. Then they get bigger. Enslin's jadedness is
thrown and he tries to get out of the room, but it will not let him leave.
Unfortunately, another one
of Stephen King's little quirks is that his stories almost always have
amazing set-ups but then get painted into a corner and stuck with
unsatisfying endings. While I will not go quite that far with this
film, in the last half hour or so the story does get away from the
filmmakers and becomes too complicated by a half. Despite a clever
screenplay by some interesting writing choices (co-screenwriters Alexander
and Karaszewski are best known for their 90s brilliant trilogy of quirky
biographical films, Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt and Man on
the Moon) the ending has too many time-changes, too much metaphysics and
too many special effects. (Why don't makers of ghost stories ever
realize that they work best with subtle thrills?)
Still, even if 1408
goes off the rails at the end it is a fascinating and chilling psychological
study for the great majority of its running time.
Copyright ©2007 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: July 26, 2007.