1408 is based on a recent Stephen King short story, which itself is rooted in countless prior King efforts. Derivation, however, isn’t necessarily a bad thing for Mikael Håfström’s film, in part because the director’s sharp use of close-ups for offhand actions—a wet boot stomping on an entrance mat, a cigarette carefully placed in an ashtray, a key turning in a lock—so capably mirrors the detail-attentiveness of King’s prose. Similarly faithful to the author’s style is a recurring use of pop music (here, the Carpenters’s “We’ve Only Just Begun”) to malevolent effect, which helps provide an unsettling undercurrent to the tale of Mike Enslin (John Cusack), a writer of bargain-bin novels about haunted locales who finds himself in a world of trouble upon visiting room 1408 of Manhattan’s Dolphin Hotel. A man who lost his daughter to disease and, consequently, his faith in God, Mike (who also has lingering daddy issues) is a prototypical King protagonist, just as the ritzy, old-school Dolphin is reminiscent of The Shining‘s Overlook Hotel. Its history littered with unexplainable deaths, the titular room is described as “evil” by the ominous, dapper hotel manager (Samuel L. Jackson), who vainly attempts to convince Mike to reconsider staying the night, even though the film—simply by virtue of its dearth of characters—can’t help but imply that this hotel bigwig was the one who initially lured Mike to the establishment with a postcard that read “Don’t Go in 1408.” Once in the seemingly average room, the cynical Mike finds himself beset by all manner of supernatural phenomena that upend his disbelief in otherworldly forces, though unlike the cheesy creepiness of the build-up to Mike’s check-in, the insanity that eventually overwhelms him (visions of his dead daughter, menacing ghosts, helter-skelter temperature changes) is of a rather mundane variety. Still, even lightweight King has some pulpy verve to offer, and 1408‘s mixture of supernatural hullabaloo and spiritual awakening is sturdily propped up by Cusack, whose performance is equal parts caustic cynicism and empathetic turmoil, and whose presence in yet another efficient B movie (after The Ice Harvest) confirms an admirable dedication to genre craftsmanship.
- Mikael Håfström
- Matt Greenberg, Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
- John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Mary McCormack, Jasmine Jessica Anthony
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