John Cusack - Mike Enslin
Samuel L. Jackson - Gerald Olin
Mary McCormack - Lily Enslin
Jasmine Jessica Anthony - Katie Enslin
Tony Shalhoub - Sam Farrell
Year - 2007
Score - 3.5 Howls Outta 4
I remember learning about 1408 during the previews before GRINDHOUSE that opening weekend in April 2007. First of all, I love Stephen King, so I was interested already. Plus the casting of John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson had me intrigued. And the trailer itself was brilliant, giving a film a creepy feeling I haven't felt or seen since probably THE RING 6 years ago. It's odd that this was released during a summer where sequels are rampant and new blockbuster franchises are being transformed [pun intended]. Does this film fit with the rest of the summer films? No, not even close. But that's maybe the appeal of 1408. It's a film that relies less on a visual spectacle and more on thought-provoking its audience. Maybe that's why it's been a hit since its release. Or maybe it's the fact that 1408 is just a darn great film in itself.
Mike Enslin (John Cusack) is a bestselling author on his travels to dark, gothic places to find the next great ghost story. His current project is staying at haunted hotels to see if anything supernatural will happen for a good story, although he doesn't believe in ghosts or God in general. While working on this book, he receives a postcard from New York City. It's a postcard of The Dolphin Hotel, warning him NOT to visit 1408. He tries to make plans on a stay, but keeps being rebuffed. However, the parties come to a compromise and Enslin is allowed to check out 1408.
At The Dolphin Hotel, Enslin meets the manager Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson), who does everything in his power to warn him about 1408 and how 56 people have died within an hour of staying in that room. A true skeptic, Enslin doesn't listen and decides to stay inside 1408. After a few minutes of quiet boredom, the room's alarm clock plays The Carpenter's "We've Only Just Begun" and turns into a timer set to an hour's time. Strange things happen to Enslin after this, giving light to the foundation of his skepticism, and that creatures really do go bump in the night.
If you're looking for a torture gore-fest like HOSTEL and SAW, then this isn't your film. This film is pure psychological in nature and I'm glad for it. This isn't a modern horror film that many in my generation are used to seeing. 1408 reminds me of those old 40s and 50s horror films where the mood was what frightened you, not the scary monster or things that popped out of nowhere. There's hardly any blood and there's no gore in the film. All you get is one man in one room, going through an hour of hell mentally. And if that one man is John Cusack, well you know it's worth your time. Director Mikael Håfström [who also directed DERAILED] does an real find job setting the pace of the film, making every shot count and creating a creepy mood that many modern horror films very much lack. Even with really frenetic sequences here and there, they never feel rushed or forced upon the viewer. This is quite a rare atmospheric film and Håfström does an excellent job with it.
As I mentioned before, this film is very psychological in nature. While the film is visually stunning at times, it's just a prop device for us to feel what Enslin is feeling. We see ghosts haunting him. We see bad memories of his daughter dying haunting him. We see walls bleeding and a brief premonition of a possible future in 1408 if he were to give up. It's done beautifully and we're gripped by one man's descent into madness, all because he refused to believe in ghosts. The room 1408 isn't, in my opinion, a haunted room. I think it symbolizes what's in Enslin's mind. Here's a man whose only daughter has passed away and he's been living in denial and pushing himself away from mourning her death through his work. When he's all by himself in that room, he has no choice but to deal with how messed up his life has begun due to his behavior. What we see is what's in his head. When the walls bleed and begin to crumble, his wall of pent-up anger and sadness is bleeding and crumbling. When the room gets cold, it's because he's been cold to his daughter's death and his refusal to grieve with his estranged wife. The film is a case study of the human mind and how we all need to deal with our lives, no matter how hard that life may be. I speak from experience and I've been in that room. But I walked out of it because I dealt with the real world and moved on from it. I won't say if Enslin deals with his problems if you haven't seen this film yet, but I believe every one of us has a room 1408. Some of us are stuck inside that room more than others.
The acting was quite good, but this film belonged to only one man: John Cusack. I don't think Cusack has been in a bad film and he's one of the few actors who always chooses the right role and makes it count more than one should. He's really at his best here, playing the skeptic Mike Enslin. He's kinda a jerk when we first meet him, not believing in the afterlife or the spiritual world - until he walks into that room 1408. When really freaky things start happening to him, Cusack reacts to every single thing as if this were really happening to him and he didn't have a script to work with. He reminds of me almost of Jack Nicholson in THE SHINING, where he begins to mentally deteriorate due to an environment he has no control over and he has a hard time dealing with that fact. The man's clearly emotionally wounded, especially after you learn about why that is [the death of his daughter]. These are his best scenes, where we learn what destroyed his faith and how badly he wants it back just so he doesn't have to deal with 1408 anymore. The character was kinda a throwback to Jimmy Stewart in VERTIGO and REAR WINDOW almost, where his feelings were projected out to other people and his surroundings. I really enjoyed Cusack here - actually there hasn't been a time where I haven't enjoyed Cusack in any film. He's really that good and I think awfully underrated at times. This film would have bombed without John Cusack and I honestly can't see anyone else playing this role but him. He's worth the price of admission alone.
The other actors, which is probably my only negative about the flm, are nothing but very short cameos. Samuel L. Jackson and Mary McCormack [who played Enslin's estranged wife] are quite good here, although they're barely in the film. I was surprised at how small Jackson's role was, since his name was on the poster and said in the advertisements as if he had a huge role in the film [it's the total opposite]. He's a critical part of the film as Enslin's sort of "guardian angel" and does it well, but he's barely in the film 10 minutes total. And McCormack's Lily is also very crucial and she plays the role sympathetically as well, but she's only really in the film towards the end. Jasmine Jessica Anthony as daughter Katie is also good here, but she's just used as a prop to explain the reasoning for Enslin's skepticism. Her scenes are very touching however, and she's quite good for a child actor. And Tony Shalhoub as Enslin's publisher could have been played by anyone and it wouldn't had made a difference. A 2 minute role in a 90 minute film - I guess he was too busy doing MONK. Great acting from everyone, but John Cusack is clearly the star. So if you love John Cusack [that should be anyone who loves great acting], this is your film.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED FROM WATCHING THIS FILM
1) Studying the paranormal is a boring, disappointing, time and money consuming job until a family member passes away. Then, ghosts can't get enough of your corporal ass. So if you're being haunted, thank your deceased loved ones for giving you that stroke and/or heart attack that's soon coming.
2) Mr. Cusack, if you want people to show up at your book signing, you need to advertise! Raise that boombox in the air and play "In Your Eyes" by Peter Gabriel again. It worked in SAY ANYTHING, didn't it?
3) All writers are alcoholics. That explains my love for booze. O' sweet vodka, how you tease me so...
4) If you're travelling and you need a place to stay, remain and sleep in your car. If you stay in a hotel, you'll probably end up dead or close enough to it. See also: PSYCHO, MUNICH, PSYCHO II, VACANCY, PSYCHO III...
5) Mr. Jackson has survived Scientologists, terrorists, gang-banging basketball students, and snakes on a motherfuckin' plane. If he's afraid of a hotel room and pleads with you to not go inside of that room, I'd listen. The man has experienced it all and is very wise.
6) If you start hearing voices of dead people in your head, seeing strangers giving you attacks that go right through you, and a twin across the street from you playing Shadow - you need to double the dosage on your meds. I think I know people who live in 1408, or at least that'll be their excuse for the entire month anyway.
7) If you need help dealing with ghosts, don't call your estranged wife for it. She'll be rooting for them to kill you, just so she can collect the life insurance policy you made. Instead, call Ghostbusters! At least they'll get rid of the problem, bring a few much-needed laughs, and invite The Marshmallow Man for a snack. Mmmm...marshmallows...
8) The past will always haunt you. ALWAYS. I knew that experience with my fraternity brother would come back and ruin my life. And my prostate.
9) The post office is an evil place. The employees either shoot you, destroy property [including your mail and packages], or raise the cost of postage. I especially hate that last one, those bastards.
10) Using a man's dead daughter to make him relive his deepest and darkest fear? That's really cold, room 1408. Not even the Poltergeist were that mean. Oh wait...they kinda were with that curse on the actors. Um, nevermind then.
THE FINAL HOWL
If you're looking for a good-old-fashioned horror film that relies on mood to creep you out than buckets of blood and murder, 1408 is the film for you. This film not only boasts great acting, but also shows what truly good horror looks AND feels like. Nice to see a Stephen King adaptation that's not horrible [I'm looking at you, THINNER and DREAMCATCHER]. Go see this if you can and tell your friends about this film. It's that good and deserves all the success in the world.