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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I've never seen a horror film quite like 1408--can you even call this
film a "horror"? Well, it's not the horror movie we're used to seeing
in this day and age. The films that are supposed to scare us nowadays
are made from the same recycled junk we've been seeing for years now.
Nonsensical plots are dreamed up just to make use of the exciting range
of CGI. Underdeveloped characters we don't care about are
tortured/murdered by a psycho for no apparent reason. Most of the
intended audience for these movies isn't even scared anymore.
Let me tell you, 1408 is different. Its main intention is not to scare you (though it undoubtedly will); it wants to tell you a story. It doesn't start out as a scary movie. John Cusack plays cult writer Mike Enslin, a man who visits supposed haunted spots in order to debunk their reputations in the mildly-successful books he writes with titles such as "10 Nights in Haunted Hotels". When the room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel in New York is brought to his attention, research tells him that the death tally in the room is in the double digits. He sees the room as a solid ending chapter for the new book he's working on.
The film is based on a Stephen King short story, which I had the pleasure of reading before I saw the film. While the film does take its creative liberties, it never forgets where it comes from. Writers Matt Greenberg, Scott Alexander, and Larry Karazewski seem to be very well-read on the author, and the movie always feels just like Stephen King--if you've ever read him, you know what I'm talking about. There have been times when I've been reading a novel of his and had to tell myself, "Calm down, it's just a book." There are moments in this film of such mind-gnawing anxiety, such high-adrenaline terror that I had to tell myself, "Calm down, it's just a movie." (Note: Stephen King does recommend the film.)
Director Mikael Håfström never takes his audience's intelligence for granted. We're never beaten over the head with the same thing; the film is always headed somewhere new and exciting. The innovative ideas here are just terrific.
John Cusack is brilliant as the cynical writer with a tragic past. He's never unbelievable, and he always nails the character down perfectly. There was never a time when I wasn't rooting for Mike Enslin in 1408. There was never a time when I did not want him to get out of the room. Cusack's emotional range is really put into play here, and the casting could not have been any more dead-on.
Samuel L. Jackson gives a chilling performance as a manager who is intent on not letting Mike enter room 1408. His determination to convince Mike not to enter the room only fuels Mike's determination to enter it. Through him, we pick up on the facts about the room Mike's research couldn't provide. His warnings give us chill bumps but leave enough open so that we still don't know what we're in for.
And with room 1408, you never really know what you're in for. Who am I to ruin it for you? Just know that this is not a mystery. We will not come to understand why the room is the way it is. There are, of course, those who will be disappointed by 1408--because when all is said and done, they will find it's not a movie about a freaky hotel room, but rather the man who's trapped in that hotel room and what he finds there.
While doing some research before reviewing 1408, I was shocked to
discover that this was the first time since 2004's Riding the Bullet
that a film based on a Stephen King story had gotten the big screen
treatment. 1408 marks somewhat of a comeback to the silver screen for
the author after mainly working with television the past couple years.
Director Mikael Hafstrom has created the most atmospheric and downright
tense thriller I can think of so far this year. The premise may be
thin, and yeah, it doesn't always make a lot of sense. But, is it ever
Mike Enslin (John Cusack) used to be a promising author until the untimely death of his young daughter, Katie (Jasmine Jessica Anthony). He now spends his time writing trashy paranormal novels about the world's most haunted areas. He travels the world, doing research by staying overnight at places that are supposed to be haunted, gets some colorful background info that he can use for material, and then moves on to his next job. One day, Mike receives a postcard informing him of an old hotel in New York City called the Dolphin Hotel, which is supposed to have a room that has quite the history. Doing some private research, he learns that the Dolphin has had a long and tragic history of deaths, all of them surrounding the guests that have stayed in Room 1408. Mike books the room, despite the warnings of the hotel manager, Gerald Olin (Samuel L.Jackson). Entering the room, nothing seems ominous at first. But then, the room itself begins to take on a life of its own, and begins tormenting Mike with various ghostly apparitions, mind tricks, and even displaying his own painful past before him in various ways.
1408 is the second thriller set around a hotel released in less than two months (the other being April's Vacancy), and is by far the superior film. The film is actually quite subtle in its way of creeping us out and disturbing us, which is a nice change of pace from the recent Hostel: Part II. Rather than bombard the audience with ghostly special effects and gore, the movie gets under your skin and goes for a much more psychological approach. The screenplay by Matt Greenberg, Scott Alexander, and Larry Karaszewski, wisely does not even attempt to explain Room 1408. It's just a very evil presence that can somehow look deep within troubled souls, and torture them to death with their own personal demons. In the wrong hands, this material could have been laughable. Even though the movie frequently flies into the realm of the unbelievable, it manages to somehow stay grounded.
A lot of this has to do with the fact that the film never loses its way, and become an excuse to throw as many special effects and jump scares into the movie as it possibly can. The human element of Mike Enslin is always at the center of the story itself, and its scares. The movie is built around the fact that he is forced to face his personal demons the longer he stays in his room, as well as try to keep his mind in check as various nightmarish hallucinations are paraded before him. It's much more effective than the usual characters that have passed as villains in recent paranormal films (usually gray-skinned people with hair over their faces), and it never once becomes heavy-handed or preachy. This is also a tricky balance to pull off. When the room started showing him flashbacks of Mike's own past, I grew nervous, thinking that the movie was going to start hitting us over the head with morales. Fortunately, it never once loses its sense of the eerie, and remains appropriately unsettling throughout.
At the center of the movie is John Cusack, who literally has to carry the movie almost by himself. This is essentially a one-man show for most of its running time, with fleeting apparitions being his main companions. Cusack has long been a favorite of mine, and this is one of his stronger recent roles. He not only has to carry almost the entire film on his own, but he also has to convincingly act like he is slowly going insane without hamming it up, or losing his personality. Any actor can tell you that madness is a difficult thing to depict. He strikes a very good balance, and remains believable throughout. Samuel L. Jackson is also notable in his small, but no less important, role as the manager who tries to talk Mike out of his decision to stay in the room. And then, of course, there is Room 1408, which is a character itself. The way it is constantly changing itself, right down to the paintings on the wall, creates an effectively creepy atmosphere that is continuously bizarre, but never so much so that we lose our sense to believe.
1408 succeeds where so many other films have failed in that it is not about apparitions jumping out at the actors or lurking in dark shadows. It digs much deeper for its horror than simple jolt thrills, and becomes an effectively thrilling horror film. It could be argued that the whole thing loses some weight when we apply logic to the story. But seriously, who wants to apply logic to a movie about an evil hotel room that can read your mind? When all is said and done, 1408 is a reminder of what horror can do. It can do so much more than thrill us. It can also make us laugh and leave us captivated. Perhaps what's more surprising than the fact that the movie can accomplish all that is that so few other horror films can.
Here's why. Stephen King's psychological horror rarely ever shows its face on the screen the way it appears in his writing. This movie captures a lot of the mental torture that Stephen King writes so well (embodied in room 1408). I typically always see Cusack as playing himself in every movie he's in. Fortunately, this role appeals to that character. I would say see it and judge for yourself. I specifically enjoyed the background music and director's choice of camera angles. I also appreciated the mix of surprise horror and psychological. All too often, a horror film loads up too much on one side and it just doesn't work out well!
Just when you thought it was safe to check into a New York City hotel,
along comes Mikael Hafstrom's chilling "1408." Not since Norman Bates
terrorized guests at his motel has a paying customer received such
treatment during a night's lodging. Although somewhat more cerebral
than viscerally frightening, "1408" delivers its share of shocks and
frights, and viewers will stay in their seats not to miss the film's
twists and swerves. In a cruel blow to fans of 1970's soft rock,
listening to the Carpenters' hit "We've Only Just Begun" afterward may
stimulate nightmares and certainly will never be the same again.
John Cusack, a cynical writer who has sunk from producing intimate novels to hack work about haunted inns, is lured to a Manhattan hotel where room 1408 is off limits to visitors, because of its long history of inhospitality. With only a knapsack, but tons of baggage from family misfortunes, Cusack insists on a night in room 1408, despite the management's objections. Cusack triumphs over the staff and settles into the chamber's banal decor, which he idly describes piece by piece into his pocket recorder for the intended article. The evening starts to look like a genuine snooze, when the room's unsettling turn-down service, a chorus from the Carpenters, and a radio that begins an ominous countdown unnerve both Cusack and viewers.
Although the "night in a haunted house" routine has been done endlessly since movies began, Hafstrom for the most part effectively plays his audience with an eerie, often jarring, soundtrack, clever cutting, and a minimum of effects. "1408" is a ghost story, not a horror or slasher flick, and, as effective haunting tales have shown ("The Haunting," "The Uninvited"), the unknown, the unseen, and the unexplained are far more frightening than CGI effects. Although reminiscent of "The Shining," another Stephen King adaptation, this film was evidently made on a modest budget. Thus, Hafstrom worked largely with a one hotel-suite set and one mid-level actor. Besides Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson also appears as the enigmatic hotel manager, who warns Cusack about the room, yet seems to know more that he shares. Cusack is fine as always and carries the film effortlessly and literally through Hell and high water. While perhaps not as scary as the premise suggests, "1408" nevertheless provides intelligent entertainment for lovers of old fashioned ghost stories.
A truly great horror film, with outstanding performances by both Samuel
L. Jackson and Cusack. Well worth your money and time. If you are a
Stephen King fan, then you will love this movie. I also suggest that
you pick up and read the short story Room 1408. The movie truly
captures the essence of the story, and when watching it, you'll think
"Wow... this is definitely a Stephen King movie."
The film is so convincing that I couldn't believe that King didn't write the screenplay himself. This is a wonderful way to spend a few hours; I'm definitely going to see this one again.
This film also breaks away from the (at least recent) standard of having a crummy, thrown together story with copious amounts of gore thrown in in place of plot. This movie has an excellent story that is sure to keep you on the edge of your seat.
First of all a few months ago, I wrote a review for Dead Silence. I
don't remember a lot of what I said for that movie, but I do know that
in a world of Saw, Hostel, and other movies that try to be horror but
can't make the grade, I felt that Dead Silence was a breath of fresh
After watching 1408 I know that the REAL breath of fresh air is the amazing almost 1 man performance of John Cusack, as well as the great support work by Samuel L. Jackson and Mary McCormack.
This is a movie that not only made me jump at certain times like Dead Silence did, but it also made me legitimately scream out in fear of a particular scene involving John Cusack on a ledge on the 14th story of a building. I guess my fear of heights also had something to do with it.
This is a movie for guys to take women that they like to, so that when the real scary parts do kick in, the classic jump-into-your-lap-in-terror will happen.
Don't be fooled by the pansy PG-13 rating. It is very scary and even though I didn't read the Steven King book of the same name, I feel that this totally captures King's own personal sense of fear. I definitely give this 10 out of 10 because this is without a doubt one of the most frightening (and I mean that in a good way, not in a crappy slit your wrists because Showgirls sucks kind of way) movies to come out in a very long time.
So go and see it, enjoy it,and let's hope that maybe Hollywood can give us REAL horror movies instead of the cheap, lame wannabes that have disgraced our movie screens before this film came out.
Please note that this review refers to the theatrical version, and not
the Director's Cut DVD release which features a completely different
Mike Enslin is a cynic. He is the author of books that detail and debunk popular ghost stories and haunted hot-spots, and it quickly becomes obvious that he is somewhat disenchanted with the life that he leads. That is, of course, until he receives an invitation to Room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel, a room in which lies his and arguably John Cusack's biggest challenge yet.
It soon becomes apparent that 1408 is not your standard horror movie, as what follows, after an enjoyably creepy encounter with hotel manager Gerald Olin (Samuel L Jackson), is essentially 90 minutes of John Cusack in a room. On his own. Save for, of course, whatever lurks inside 1408. It is a challenge that Cusack rises to expertly; we all know he's a good actor and a brilliant everyman (I don't remember a film in which I've wanted to see him crash and burn), but 1408 allows him to display his range to great effect as the room confronts him with the physical dangers of the present and the emotional tragedies of his past.
While it's relatively light on big scares, 1408 instead creates a powerful sense of unease that combines wonderfully with Cusack's portrayal of a man enduring his own private hell. Each challenge thrown up by the room takes the movie somewhere new and unexpected, ensuring that the movie never really gets tired or repetitive, and as a result each scene in the room is tense, surprising, and very, very creepy. However, that's not to say that it doesn't lose its way occasionally. Some of the CGI usage is quite ineffective, and about two-thirds through the movie it feels like it's about to go the wrong way, but it recovers well for the final act, and its haunting ending ensures that you'll remember it long after you leave the theatre.
A brilliantly acted, well developed version of King's short story, 1408 is a different type of horror movie, but in all the right ways. Very good!
Mike Enslin makes a living as an author, who specializes in the
paranormal phenomenon. After receiving a postcard saying DO NOT STAY IN
1408, Mike becomes intrigued. After much hassle and waring from the
hotel Manager, Mike finally makes it into the room. What at first seems
to be a normal hotel room, turns into a horrific nightmare and Mike
only has one hour to live.
There have been many films based on Kings writings. Some of these films are terrifying, such as IT and The Shinning; while others are terrifyingly bad, Dreamcatcher anyone? The latest film to be added to the list is 1408 and lucky for us it belongs to the former. 1408 works on many different levels and even throws a twist to the audience. While it's not the best King adaptation it certainly is one of the better ones and deserves to be called The Shining for 2007.
In the era when so called horror films are full of SAWS and HOSTELS, it's refreshing to see some new blood being pumped into the genre. 1408 pumps a whack of blood and a whole lot more. The film starts off as one would expect, with Mike investigating one of his routine spooky places, then goes on to show his life as a writer with not so many fans. We get a sense of loneliness with Mike, he has lost something. Cusack plays the character well. For those who think they can't get pass the fact that it is John Cusack, I assure you you will not think about it during this film. His performance is a complete 180 from his previous work and I give him credit for pulling it off. Cusack goes through a wide range of emotions through this film, most of them being on the terrified side, but everyone of them is believable. Sure there are many other actors out there who could have pulled off this role, but Cusack does a fine job. Which is a really big thing that this film depends on, because there is virtually no one else in this film. The supporting characters are lucky is they get 10 minutes of screen time. Tony Shalhoub, of MONK fame is only in one scene and Mr. Jackson shares the screen with Cusack for just about ten minutes...to explain the horrors of the room, then he's gone.
Håfström, whose work I'm not too familiar with does an excellent job of bringing King's short story to live with a vivid and creative imagination. He manages to keep the audience on the edge of their seat throughout the film the moment the terror starts. The film's intentions are not to scare you with the "jump" tactic, but tries to pull something deeper, the kind of scare the builds and builds until you can't take it anymore. The entire time we are in this claustrophobic room and we know danger is looming, but we can't escape. We are stuck in this room because Mike is stuck in this room. We know the dangers ahead, we want out, he doesn't. The cinematography is beautiful, especially considering it takes place in one room. From the icy cold snow to the green walls and even the burnt aftermath of destruction, the film is beautiful no matter what is on the screen.
Cusack talking into his recorder acts as his mind trying to grab any sense of reality in this evil room. Trying to debunk the true horrors of what is actually happening. Those true horrors are psychological. One minute something spooky is happening, then next everything is normal. This mind game has been done before and before and here it's brought to the next level. Everything that happens can instantly change. One minute you can be walking in the room full of snow, then next your trapped under water. Being confined to this one room with this one character places tension on the audience as well. We don't know what is going to happen next, but we know it's not good.
There is somewhat of a twist in the film, I won't give it away, but once it happens you see 3 things happen and in this order. One is disappointment, the next is predictability and finally excitement that what you predicted is true. During this third part of things that happen, the scene in which everything is thrown back into focus is superbly done. Kudos to that scene as it is one of the best in the entire film. The main characters life he thought he had all of a sudden comes tumbling down, literally. This whole segment does slow down the pace of the film, but it fits perfectly into the psychological torment of this character.
In the end 1408 is an excellent film that will send shivers down the spines of those wanting a good scare. If you're sick and tired of the played out genres of SAW or HOSTEL, 1408 is something new and exciting and actually good. You won't get much from anyone other then Cusack, but what he brings to the table is indeed a good performance. Every corner and every room within 1408 is something that you will have to see for yourself, you never know what horrors lie next and that my friend, is a good horror film.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
John Cusack gets drunk and trashes a hotel room.
What could be more fun?
Well, how about a hotel room that isn't just haunted, but is actually a place where the universe's physical laws - especially the ones that deal with trivial matters such as space and time - don't really apply, and the room itself is a sentient manifestation of evil.
Well, what if we give our 'sentient manifestation of evil' a consciousness and the ability to penetrate and read the subconscious minds of anybody who happens to be in the room and then show them their worst fears or deepest pains?
Still not satisfied?
OK - just for the sheer hell of it (and there is plenty of sheer hell to go around in this film) - why not make Cusack a self-righteous investigative documentarian who is going around debunking hauntings all over the U.S., but is actually in denial about enormous emotional problems centering around his daughter's death and his own childhood.
If this sounds like fertile ground for entertainment, and you don't mind getting scared half to death, you should go see 1408 right away.
It was long ago, and I was different person when I read the Steve King story upon which this film is based, so I can't really comment on how close to the text 1408 is. What I can say, however, is that this film is a more true representation of the feeling of King's writing and pacing than almost any I can think of. This is also the first film I have seen in many years that actually made my skin crawl (across the floor of a crowded theater).
The film wastes relatively little time setting up Mike Enslin's character and situation, but once its all on the table, you find yourself incapable of escaping either. I have seen a couple of reviews which attack 1408 for lack of characterization. These reviewers must have wandered into the wrong theater, because they've not seen the same film I just saw. My advice to these reviewers is - try paying more attention to what your watching instead of your pre-conceptions about the genre. Cusack's character is beautifully set up - from his editor's "he can get kind of morose." to his more-or-less constant drinking, painful flashbacks focusing on his daughter, and inability to communicate with people he cares about. It's all there, for those who have the attention span and sensitivity to look for it.
Cusack's performance is a tour-de-force of physical and psychological acting. Having a hard time imagining him in this role? Take what Cusack did in "Being John Malkovich", quadruple the intensity, the fear, and the suspense, add alcoholism and self-denial, and there you have Mike Enslin. I never doubted that Cusack had the raw talent, but was actually surprised to see him pull it off SO well. Although the films are radically different, this could be for him what 'Leaving Las Vegas' was to Nick Cage, or what 'Hollywoodland' should be for Ben Affleck. The rest of the cast all have fairly minor roles, but are fine.
Mikael Hafstrom did a very nice job with directing. There is never a pointless scene, nor a dull moment, nor any loose ends. The plot is spelled out in detail, and all the clues are there to unravel the mysteries, but the clues are not so unsubtle as to permit you to guess what's next. As I said before, the feeling and pace of King's work come through very nicely. The special effects are all very convincing (relatively little CGI, and where animation was used, it was very well done),and the camera-work is picture perfect. I was especially impressed by the fact that 1408 cost about $25,000,000 to make - a mere pittance compared to many of the schlock-fests Hollywood horror has tossed up recently.
Very highly recommended for people who tend to sleep easily at night. If you are an insomniac, catch a matinée like I did.
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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