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Movie Review: 1408


Directed by Mikael Hafstrom
Written by Matt Greenberg, Scott Alexander, and Larry Karaszewski from the short story by Stephen King

It had been a long while since we saw the classic ghost story setup: Skeptical human walks into a haunted place and is made to change his mind. Most of the horror/thriller genre these days, for the most part, has involved torture or the extremely psychological indie flick, in addition to the Japanese remakes and the usual cheaply-made “whatever” movies like The Messengers.

I was almost guaranteed to enjoy 1408, with such a likable star at its center, John Cusack, roaming around in the world of Stephen King, who has made a little bit of a living with these kinds of stories, like The Shining and Pet Sematary. The trailers looked good, they certainly made me want to go see it, but I’m sad to say that 1408 pretty much lost me in its middle third and for most of its final act, until a chilling ending made me stop and consider that maybe it was worth the ride. I’ve decided that I’m going to remain frustratingly mixed on this film.

The setup drew me in: Writer Michael Enslin (Cusack) has been touring hotels around the world claiming that they are haunted, mostly unable to report anything scary in his books, which don’t sell awfully well but he has a low-level following. Basically, he’s a debunker, but there is something that keeps pulling him to these places, probably the death of his young daughter and the hope that there’s some proof that there’s an afterlife. One day, a postcard comes to him telling him, “Don’t enter 1408,” referring to a room in The Dolphin Hotel in New York.

This little bit of trickery has a devilish air about it, and playing the substitute devil here is Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson), the manager of the Dolphin who plays that old Brer Rabbit game: “We’ll give you anything not to stay in 1408,” giving historical details of strange deaths that happened in the room and no one has lasted an hour in it, which of course entices Enslin even more. And so, we are too enticed.

It’s not long after Enslin enters that reality is turned on its head, the radio comes on playing The Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun,” and then a countdown ensues. For an hour, Enslin starts seeing things (or does he?) and descends into that horror madness, unable to leave the room, unable to communicate. He does manage, somehow, to talk to his wife (Mary McCormack) through a webcam, even though we’re told electronic devices don’t work in 1408.

It’s this whole section of the film that just started to bore me. At first, it’s all right, but then Enslin starts walking into rooms that seem to have changed for him, but to the viewing audience, is exactly the same. This is a huge cheat, a bad tactic, considering that we should believe he’s seeing these strange things and that they’re actually happening. Even so, the scares are minimal after a couple of good scenes kick it off; I just kind of got tired watching Enslin try something to get out of the room, only to be reminded: You can’t leave because 1408 is eeeeevil!

1408 ends up pulling out a good ending, giving i a fantastic opening act, a second act that gets tiresome, and a third act that wallows through the mess the second act makes until it pulls out its one surprise. Believe me, I sat back with a very uncritical eye (like I do with most genre films), and just didn’t feel like the movie had done the job. I certainly wanted it to; I rooted for it, but it ultimately falls a bit short.

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