Dir. Mikael Hafstrom, US, 2007, 94mins
Genre: Horror / Thriller
Cast: John Cusack, Mary McCormack, Samuel L Jackson
Review by Matthew Rodgers
You can count the number of successful Stephen King adaptations on one hand – The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, The Shining, Stand By Me and Misery. After 1408 you may need to become ambidextrous because Swedish director Mikael Hafstrom has created a taut paranormal psychological frightener to send chills through the late summer nights.
Mike Enslin (Cusack) makes a living writing airport lounge novels based on hokum supernatural events. Once a respected author, tragedy has driven him down a staircase to a personal hell where he survives on far fetched theories that even he doesn’t believe in. Tired of staying in Bates Motel style tourist attractions built on local gossip and without even a hint of ectoplasm he accepts an anonymous invitation to stay in New York’s Dolphin Hotel, room 1408, a supposedly haunted suite in which countless tenants have died. Like you do.
1408 is a success for a singular reason: John Cusack. The challenge of having to hold the attention of the audience when asked to spend the bulk of the running time in a single room is an undertaking of Tom Hanks/Castaway proportions, Cusack doesn’t even have the comfort of a volleyball to talk to, just the possibly hallucinogenic demons in his psyche, but he meets it head on with an honest, real portrayal of a fallible man looking for a way out in life, literally and metaphorically. All nervous ticks and self-analysis as the walls collapse around him, Cusack's reputation as the everyman serves the believability of his unbelievable plight, and our involvement in it very effectively.
Hafstrom does his bit without resorting to schlocky cat-in-the-cupboard tactics too much; he cranks up the tension using real sets and minimal CGI to provide some genuine scares – mainly the unsettling build up and the initial mind games as the room toys with him – all this in a genre that has been severely lacking of late – The Reaping, The Messengers to name but two.
Samuel L Jackson also shows up as the wide-eyed 'knows all, but reveals very little' hotel manager and underplays his usual grandiose dialogue to add to the unsettling atmosphere; its obvious he is having a lot of the fun with his stagy and hugely preposterous lines.
Complete enjoyment of your stay in room 1408 will depend on the satisfaction at the chosen denouement. According to the production notes multiple conclusions were filmed but you leave with the feeling that test screenings or studio pressure forced the filmmakers into making the safe choice, not necessarily the right one.