Mike Enslin, a paranormal investigator that doesn’t believe in the paranormal checks himself into room 1408 at The Dolphin Hotel in New York. The room has a reputation for being haunted and is associated with a variety of unexplained deaths. The room is typically closed to guests but Mike demands that the hotel management let him stay in the room so that he might write about it in his next book. When the hotel finally agrees to let Mike check in, he is faced with a nightmare of unbelievable proportions and must struggle to get out alive.
Mikael Håfström (The Rite) directed 1408 and the screenplay is adapted from a short story by Stephen King. 1408 is a far superior effort to a lot of Håfström’s other work. 1408 is gripping, features a likable cast of characters, and is evenly paced. This tale of terror offers legitimate scares and plenty of them.
Håfström makes the most of his limited shooting locales. 90% of the film takes place in a single room but the director uses that to create a claustrophobic sensation that Mike becomes keenly aware of. Håfström uses lighting, unique cinematography, and a fitting score to create a level of tension that is positively unnerving. He makes it appear as if the room is closing in on Mike and the audience picks up on that feeling along with him.
John Cusack (The Raven) is the perfect choice to play Mike. He is representative of the every man type and is easy for the audience to relate to. If a less talented thespian had filled the role, there is no way this feature would have succeeded. Cusack’s performance is dead on and a major part of why the picture works as well as it does.
Like nearly all of King’s work, there is more to it than what meets the eye: The torment that Mike goes through, while real in its own way, also appears to serve as a metaphor for the pain of losing a child. The room seems to become a physical manifestation of what he is feeling inside.
Mike’s sarcastic wit covers a deep pain from his past that will make him relatable to most members of the audience. He is multi-dimensional which is appropriate because 1408 is a very character driven horror film.
This picture falls under the haunted house sub-genre, although it is not technically a house that’s haunted. In light of that, the film doesn’t have much of a body count but that’s not what the Stephen King story focuses on and the production team would have been foolish to attempt to deviate from what makes King’s story successful.
The pacing in 1408 is almost always dead on. The film never lets up. The expository details are conveyed in such a way as to keep the viewer interested, rather than making them feel as though they are being forced to sit through an obligatory explanation of the film’s setup. Most of the backstory is uncovered amidst the terror that Mike is faced with. From start to finish, there is rarely a dull moment in this film.
1408 accomplishes the nearly impossible: It succeeds at being terrifying and completely enjoyable in spite of its PG-13 rating. Håfström is able to use ambiance to make up for the film’s lack of explicit gore, nudity, or language. And I wouldn’t change a thing about it.
If you have avoided 1408 because of its PG-13 rating, it’s time that you give it a chance. The pacing is effective, the scares are legitimate, the performances are great, and it stands as a very respectable Stephen King adaptation. 1408 is currently available on DVD and Blu-ray from Dimension Home Entertainment. The two-disc director’s cut special edition features the more ominous alternate ending and more.
My only quip is that the director (or more likely the studio) decided to go with the more satisfying ending. I think that cheats the viewer a bit and ultimately cheapens the film a bit.
Director(s): Mikael Håfström
Writer(s): Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski, Matt Greenberg
Stars: John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Mary McCormack, Tony Shalhoub
Studio/ Production Co: Dimension Films
Budget: $25 Million
Length: 106 Minutes
Sub-Genre: Supernatural Horror