1408 is a lot like an extended length episode of ‘The Twighlight Zone’. The plot is simple and the characters in it exist only as long as they’re in frame. John Cusack plays Mike Enslin, a debunker of the supernatural and born skeptic who walks into a hotel room and finds himself not only trapped but suddenly and utterly convinced of the existence of otherworldly forces. Unable to escape, Mike spends in an hour in what the hotel manager, played perfectly by Sam Jackson, describes as “an evil fucking room”, and we’re along with him as room 1408 drives him past the point of terror and insanity like a nail pounded into the floor by a hammer.
The movie is based on a very short story by Stephen King, which perhaps explains the unusual simplicity of its framework. The film’s screenplay colors the move in a bit around the edges by attempting to add a subplot involving Mike’s belief in an afterlife, and director Mikael Hafstrom does his best to make the story even bigger than it is otherwise in written form, but when the credits roll it’s ultimately still the story of a man stuck in an evil fucking hotel room for one, horrifying hour.
Simple the movie may be, but yeah it’s really scary. It’s not just that it’s scary, it’s the way in which it’s scary. The terror doesn’t come from a bunch of jump cuts, or lame camera work in which the director goes out of his way to randomly throw things at you that make you jump out of your seat. There’s a little of that, but most of it comes from simply fearing the room and fearing what the hell it’s going to end up doing to Mike. Never has a King size bed had such an air of imminent menace, never has a mint on a pillow seemed so, well, evil.
Stephen King’s story is disturbing and Mikael Hafstrom’s movie manages to make it even more so. After a lot of restraint, the movie goes a little CGI crazy at the end, but by then you’re so wrapped up in the story all that computer generated excess doesn’t hurt. If 1408 misfires at anything, it’s only in the film’s misfired attempt to reach for something bigger than simply being scary. That afterlife subplot never quite connected for me, it didn’t add that extra layer of emotion and bigger meaning that I think the script was going for. It doesn’t hurt the film, and in many ways it actually adds to the disturbing terror, but 1408 doesn’t leave you questioning the nature life and death when you walk out the door. . If you think of the movie after you leave, it’ll be only to wonder whether one of the pictures on the wall of your bedroom may be out to get you. For a humble little horror thriller like this one, I can’t think of a better compliment.
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