Directed by Mikael Hafstrom
These days, it’s rare to see Stephen King off the small screen (since Dreamcatcher was one of the last to hit theaters, some may consider that a blessing). Still, after the umpteenth Mick Garris cheapie, it’s always nice to see one made up with a budget and A-list talent, and 1408 stands as one of the better King adaptations under the sun - even going so far as to surpass the source material.
This was a film that had a lot of red flags, mainly because every one of the author’s shorts have tanked as features. Remember Graveyard Shift? The Lawnmower Man? What number of Children of the Corn are we on? Hell, even the power of AC/DC couldn’t save King’s own Maximum Overdrive (which reared its ugly head twice when it was remade even worse as Trucks). Sealed with the dreaded PG-13 rating and Dimension Films logo, all signs pointed towards another big studio disaster. Luckily, director Mikael Håfström has overcome the odds with a haunted thrill ride that should satisfy horror fans, King purists and mainstream audiences alike.
John Cusack plays Mike Enslin who, like most King characters, is a jaded author. Traveling to famous "haunted" locations, he pens exploitive guide books, all the while looking for genuine signs of the paranormal and coming up short. One day, Enslin receives an anonymous tip about the mysterious hotel room of 1408, home to a whopping fifty-six deaths. After butting heads with hotel manager Olan (Jackson) who doesn’t want to "clean up the mess", Enslin finally weasels his way into the infamous room and quickly finds he got more than he bargained for.
What puts this above most Stephen King films? For starters, 1408 has what few contemporary horror flicks have: a classy build-up. Instead of bombarding you with gimmicky openings, false scares, or ghost pop-outs, the first act consists mainly of a heated conversation between Cusack and Jackson as each man tries to power-play the other. These early scenes are executed to paranoid perfection and the morbid stories of the room are recounted like the world’s creepiest campfire tales. As a result, you’re completely on edge before our hero even steps foot off the elevator.
Once in the room, events go to hell pretty fast. Following their afterlife textbooks, the evil forces start by turning on appliances and quickly step up the game when their skeptical victim laughs it off. As the tension mounts, you essentially watch the room mindfuck Cusack until he can’t tell which direction is up. Håfström wisely steers clear of the Shyamalan and J-horror routes, opting for a scary eye-popping rollercoaster that zips from one set-piece to the next. Thankfully, 1408 does away with the flashy Hollywood fakery we’ve come to expect and while it’s not hard to predict the outcome of most scenes (especially if you’ve seen the spoiler-ridden trailer) it’s all carried out with real gusto.
Of course, the main star is the room itself and, if anything, 1408 is a triumph of production design and set work. Even though this is mostly a one-location film, the room constantly changes and distorts to become labyrinthine and, as if inhabited by the psychotic ghost of Sigmund Freud, gives depth to its occupant by manifesting his inner most fears. As for the "supporting cast" of real actors, they all turn in great performances and make the most of their characters (although there are moments where Cusack veers dangerously close to the Cary Elwes School of Fear™).
There are a million bad puns critics can and probably will use to describe this ("Check into 1408!" ... "It’s the return of the King!" ...), but most will agree that this is one of the better summer movies – in or out of the genre. Even more shocking is that Dimension has now delivered two quality horror films (see: Grindhouse) in the space of a few months. Maybe there really are mystical forces out there.
4 out of 5
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