– Summary –
Director : Mikael Håfström
Cast : John Cusack, Samuel L Jackson, Mary McCormack, Tony Shalhoub, Len Cariou, Jasmine Jessica Anthony, Isiah Whitlock.
Year of Release: 2007
Length : 106 Minutes
Synopsis: A skeptic of all things paranormal decides to stay in a supposedly haunted room in a hotel (against the manager’s advice) believing nothing will happen. Of course, things do happen, and our hero must fight to stay alive, and sane.
Review : Adequately scary thriller based upon the Stephen King novel, works in places, and slumps in others. While thankfully not as mind-numbingly awful as, say, It, 1408 is still a second-rate story only improved by first-rate acting by the two leads.
I have to admit, I am a fan of Stephen King. As a fan of the legendary horror writer, I admire his ability to create a page-turning novel or short story with apparent ease. I also have to admit, I am not, generally a fan of films based on his work. For every Green Mile or Shawshank Redemption, there’s an It or Sleepwalkers thrown in. Unfortunately, only a few directors have successfully managed to get King’s words onto the screen with a similar effect to them being on the page.
1408, based upon a short story of Kings, is an uneven, but entertaining affair. I was rather taken with it’s quite simple setup: a skeptic (John Cusack) of all things spooky and supernatural discovers an offer he cannot refuse: spend a night in a supposedly haunted room for one night. The hotel manager, played by Samuel L Jackson, believes he will not last one hour in the room, a dare Cusack accepts with withering aplomb.
Of course, this is a King horror story, and of course, things go bump in the night. And what a bump. In fact, in the face of buckets of gore and blistering body-part dismemberment, 1408 is a harkening back to the good old days when people were actually scared by films, rather than just grossed out by “horror” films in the vein of Saw or Hostel. With a small cast, and a limited conceit for the film (after all, the main characters spends the majority of the film in one hotel room…. hardly an action packed evening of viewing, right?) you’d be forgiven for thinking that 1408 was a kind of Hitchcockian Rope film, a one set experiment gone wrong. Thankfully, what follows from the opening titles is a great example of just how to really unsettle an audience. You expect things to go bang and bump, but you don’t quite know how they’re going to do it.
The scares, while often telegraphed in advance, are genuinely frightening, spooky and unsettling: something most modern horror films manage to forget to inspire in their audience. Of course, not everything is as it seems, and thankfully, there’s enough twists to keep you guessing as to what’s going on. The pivotal back story of Cusack’s deceased daughter (played beautifully by Jasmine Jessica Anthony) Katie, and his estranged wife keep you engaged, while the perilous adventures of a trapped Cusack himself are enough to keep you entertained as he tries to unravel the mystery of the room.
Jackson, as the manager, is relegated to “spooky tale teller” status, and he does such a good job of foreshadowing and foreboding that the opening twenty or so minutes of the film, while action free, are essentially as good as the last two thirds. In fact, Jackson is so good, you forgive the filmmakers for not giving him more screen time. Cusack roles around in the film so casually you almost feel he’s slacking off, but its a terrific example of just how much his screen persona can change from role to role: I found this part perfectly suited his ability to carry a film. After all, how much can the viewer expect from a man in a room?
Ultimately, the film works on various levels, even though the ending leaves a lot to be desired. A confusing and befuddling affair, the films ending has been the subject of much online debate, and in the R4 DVD version, an alternate one is given instead of the original US theatrical version. While it may have suited the filmmakers or the DVD producers to include this ending, what disappointed me was the lack of an option to pick which ending I wanted to watch.
The original, the alternate, the alternate alternate….whichever, but I guess we will never know. The ending provided offers a complete lack of resolution to a film that, until then, has tried desperately to be both clever and realistic in it’s intent. Having not read Kings story, I cannot claim to know how the film differs from the original text, however, I would have said that the ending most like the one offered by King would have been more suitable.
1408 is both a satisfying addition to the King Book-to-Movie Oeuvre, as well as a well made scary movie in it’s own right. Cusack delves into a character with realistic motivation wholeheartedly, and I, as a viewer, appreciate the effort. the effects are first rate, the scares really scary, and the twist (yes, there’s a twist) is a gem.
You could do a lot worse, and in the days we live in with overly blood drenched gore passing for “scares”, you could certainly do a lot less classy.