In 1921, England is overwhelmed by the loss and grief of World War I. Hoax exposer Florence Cathcart visits a boarding school to explain sightings of a child ghost. Everything she believes unravels as the 'missing' begin to show themselves.
The cynical and skeptical writer Mike Enslin writes books evaluating supernatural phenomena in hotels, graveyards and other haunted places, usually debunking the mystery. While writing his latest book, he travels from Los Angeles to New York to spend one night in the Dolphin Hotel's posessed room 1408, which is permanently unavailable for guests. The reluctant manager Mr. Gerald Olin objects to his request and offers an upgrade, expensive booze and finally relates the death of more than fifty guests over decades in the cursed room. However Mike threatens Mr. Olin, promising to sue the hotel, and is finally allowed to check into the room. Later in the night, he finds that guests of room 1408, once they have checked in, might never leave the room alive. Written by
Claudio Carvalho, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
like a very good feature-length episode of the Twilight Zone: surrealism and 'gotchas' at every corner
It's a hit or miss thing with Stephen King movies. Sometimes there's an exceptional effort by someone with a really strong vision (eg Kubrick, De Palma), but then there are also some big blunders (Dreamcatcher comes first to mind). And then there are those that sort of lie right in the middle, as decent, unpretentious but unremarkable efforts that chill or spill into your living room or movie theater. 1408 isn't a great thriller, but for King fans it'll likely be one of the most faithful- or at least feel faithful- efforts to date, and as such it's pretty creepy and a sure-fire "gotcha" machine. The premise is vintage King: a cynical writer (Cusack) who's books go over the paranormal (with the exception of a personal book about a father and son), and gets sent an anonymous postcard about the Dolphin hotel and room 1408. The manager warns him, fervently, to not stay in the room. But he's insistent to the point where there's no turning back. Slowly, but extremely surely, things start popping up in the room, out of Elsin's own consciousness, perhaps, and as well with the environment changing (fix that heater!), and even a pint-sized version of the hotel manager (who doesn't want to see Jackon ala Indian in the Cupboard?).
It all leads up to a few good twists and turns, but good being the important word here. Unlike the unsuccessful pot-boiler Identity, which also (regrettably) starred Cusack, this isn't contrived for the sake of it. The sudden images of a man with an ax swinging at Elson, the images of ghosts jumping out of the windows (one of them, which I found extraordinary, was shown with the same marks that come with an old movie print), isolation enhanced by a lack of windows to either side, and that bottle of booze. Spiked? Probably not- this is a thrill-ride predicated on lightning-fast imagery, but too fast (it isn't Saw thank goodness), and Elsin's past, notably the death of his daughter. It's usually a conceit that the filmmaker puts in to have the central character to have a dark past loaded with sadness, but here it works effectively in how gradually it all comes out, and how the fear/acceptance of death is something just as, if not more-so, terrifying than anything else the room has to offer.
As I said, not a great film, as sometimes it has that feel of an all-too well-oiled machine by director Mikael Håfström, edging on feeling like there's a checklist somewhere of things to happen in the room to Elsin. But, as mentioned, it doesn't come off as being too unsurprising. On the contrary, there is some originality to how the special effects team- via Cusack, going through many modes of acting like it's a powerhouse audition- bring out the best of what can be offered with a horror-show amusement park. It may be in part like a ghost house, but it's a fun and exciting one, and more watchable than any other PG-13 horror film I've seen in a while. 7.5/10
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