Starring-John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson
Scott’s Review #983
Reviewed January 23, 2020
A bundle of film adaptations of Stephen King novels has been birthed over the years. 1408 (2007) is one of many and while suspenseful, the project might have been better served as a quick fifty-minute episodic television event rather than a big-screen effort. The content seems displaced and disjointed, stretched too thin. Nonetheless, big stars like John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson provide some stamina to a film that slowly teeters into nonsense and a confusing conclusion.
Based on Stephen King’s 1999 short story of the same name, the film follows Mike Enslin (Cusack), an author who investigates allegedly haunted houses, and rents the titular room 1408 at the Dolphin, a New York City hotel, to see what all the fuss is about. Although skeptical of the paranormal, he is soon unable to leave the room as he experiences bizarre events. The hotel manager, Gerald Owen (Jackson) attempts to convince Mike not to inhabit the notorious room, and intriguing is why?
The film has key success when it focuses on the atmospheric and the tense moments. The lighting and the camera techniques elicit a closed-in and claustrophobic aura because the set is mostly the hotel room. The use of psychological tension works better than a slice-’em, dice-’em approach.
During Mike’s examination of his room, the clock radio suddenly starts playing “We’ve Only Just Begun”, a hit song by The Carpenters. Mike assumes that Olin is pulling a prank to scare him. At 8:07, the song plays again and the clock’s digital display changes to a countdown starting from “60:00.” This is creepy, and the viewer is intrigued by what will happen next.
The window slams down and wounds Mike’s hand. He begins to see ghosts of the room’s past victims, followed by flashbacks of his dead daughter Katie, and his sick father. This catapults Mike into a terror and he attempts to escape the room, fearing for his life. He is unsuccessful in his escape and the room appears to have him prisoner until his wife, Lily (Mary McCormack) comes to the rescue. What does Olin have to do with the events? Is Lily sinister or benevolent?
When Mike is out of the hotel room the film falls apart. Containing too many weird circumstances to make much sense- a surfing event on the beach, a Molotov cocktail, a fire alarm, and a return to the hotel room spin the viewer in too many directions as a hallucinogenic experience is created. Before long the viewer will stop caring. I know I did. On paper these oddities sound intriguing, but they did not translate to screen well.
Hafstrom directs the action adequately and uses actors that viewers are familiar with, adding to the credibility. With lesser talents or unknowns, the film may have felt low budget or independent, and I think the film, while not great, needs these actors to add professionalism. The star is naturally Cusack, who enjoys the most screen time as a man who only believes what his eyes and ears tell him, and not the silliness of spirits and ghosts. The actor possesses an offbeat look which adds to the film.
From a story-line perspective, 1408 (2007) never really catches fire. The film is not pitiful, nor is it a great adaptation of a Stephen King novel. The novel is hardly a household name, which does the film few favors. The result is fair to middling, with a promising first half followed by a dour second. 1408 will certainly be forgotten five years after its release.