Monday, April 26, 2010

Archive: "1408" (2007)

Just watching "1408," you know this is the stuff of Stephen King. It's a nightmarishly wicked premise that is executed very effectively and adapts well to the screen from King's original short story. This movie could very well have gone horribly wrong, but luckily, this is one of the best film adaptations of something from Stephen King in recent memory. (Remember "Secret Window"?) The best part about this horror movie is that it's actually pretty scary. Don't let the PG-13 rating fool you; just because there aren't buckets of gore dumped onto the screen, there are genuine frights here. This is one that's definitely worth your time checking into.

Mike Enslin (John Cusack) is a horror novelist having a rough time. His latest book about the top ten haunted hotels is barely successful, and he just keeps hunting for better and scarier locations to write about. He's careless and disgruntled, and his cynicism is shown in his writing. While at an uncrowned book signing, a teenage girl approaches him with his very first novel entitled "The Long Road Home," which was before he began writing horror novels. It's a glimpse of how troubled Enslin is, but we are soon to find out that his troubles are really just beginning.

Tired of going to supposed haunted houses that turn out to be jokes, Enslin simply can't pass up the challenge of room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel in New York. In its hundred years of existence, 56 people have died in that one single room. Once at the hotel, Enslin is confronted by the hotel manager, Mr. Olin (Samuel L. Jackson), who warns him repeatedly to change his mind about staying in the room and attempts to bribe him into leaving. When he flatly states, "This is a fucking evil room," you'll not only get chills because of the tone in which he says it, but also in the fact that Sam Jackson just got done dropping another f-bomb. Even so, Enslin is persistent and insists on staying the night.

Following that, the rest of the movie is essentially a lot of John Cusack spending some quality time in the creepy room where his character gets a taste of his own medicine. Cusack basically has to hold his own for a large portion of the running-time, and he does a surprisingly good job of it. I don't particularly like the guy, but when it comes to looking totally frazzled and talking to yourself in a freaky hotel room, he fits the bill perfectly. Not only that, but he brings his welcome smartass attitude that makes Enslin's cynicism totally palpable.

While in the room, Enslin is haunted primarily by his own memories of his young daughter's sad death, an incident which broke apart him and his wife. There are also translucent visions of the past victims from the room, and a ton of other hellish things occurring throughout Enslin's stay. What's most unsettling about this part of the movie is that we're not sure whether or not what Enslin is experiencing is his own plunge into insanity. There's an artfully sustained feeling of dread and suspense in the atmosphere that gets to us just as it's getting to the man we're watching. I could say plenty more about the occurrences in room 1408, but I won't because the thrill comes from the sheer unpredictability of what is to come next.

There's even a glimpse into a potential cop-out ending that has enough twists and switchbacks to keep your mind racing. The real ending, however, is one that isn't frustrating, and yet isn't very clear-cut, either. It's satisfying enough but also leaves enough loose ends to be up for interpretation. In terms of chilling excitement and genuine creepiness, "1408" is a notch above any other current horror fare in theaters recently.

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