Review: ‘1408’

A Stephen King story adapted into a summer thriller starring John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson… and it’s good, too.

Mike Enslin (John Cusack) is a paranormal “investigator” who debunks hauntings through a series of books: “10 Most Haunted Cemeteries,” “10 Most Haunted Hotels,” and so forth. A mysterious postcard lures him to The Dolphin Hotel in New York City, specifically about room 1408. Already armed with research about the bizarre number of deaths that have occurred in the room, Mike isn’t surprised when the hotel manager, Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson), tries to talk him out of it, convinced it’s all part of the act that no one has ever lasted more than sixty minutes inside before something fatal happens. Once inside the room in question, Mike learns all too quickly that the manager’s description was perfectly correct: “It’s an evil f****** room.”

Stephen King novels have been made into some great films (Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining) and not so good (Dreamcatcher), but it’s usually too much to expect a film to actually capture the sense of dread and impending doom that many of King’s novels exploit. Once again, here’s the story of a writer with a past just getting by until something happens that either pushes him over the edge or makes a new man out of him. The difference this time is the pure fun to be had; room 1408 is not only haunted but also has a twisted sense of humor, making use of everything inside to push unsuspecting tourists into offing themselves.

Okay, the haunted house plot isn’t a new idea, but this one works for three reasons. First, we know virtually nothing of the main character’s past… but the room does, and it exploits that knowledge to the best effect. Second is John Cusack on screen with only himself to react to unless you consider the room itself a character, and Cusack makes you believe that he comes to believe it. Third is the explanation given for why the room is the way it is: it just is! Seriously, forget all the movie theme park rides you’ve ever heard of; there needs to be a “1408” ride at Universal Studios.

Is it real? Did it happen? Have you really escaped the room, or do you just think you have? Even the dreaded but overused “countdown clock” is integrated into the story-line to maximum effect, especially since you don’t really know what exactly it’s counting down to. While Sam Jackson may have the best line, the film really belongs to the room and John Cusack, probably pulling off his most entertaining turn since Grosse Point Blank. This isn’t slasher horror or your typical twist-ending thriller, just a psychological mind trip that you get to watch performed by an actor who sells it for all it’s worth. Enjoy the ride and be sure to tip your torturer after you check out.

(a three skull recommendation out of four)

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