With prices for cinema tickets now reaching ridiculous heights it’s not often I will treat myself to a new release unless it’s something I simply cannot wait for. Instead, I’m happy to content myself with a cheap DVD or a film on TV which may have slipped through my critical net and, believe me, there have been far too many. Whether the films featured here are recent or old I’ll still be providing my honest opinion on them and, with the benefit of hindsight in many cases, may offer a slightly different take to contemporary reviewers.
When it comes to horror, audiences can never get enough of ghosts and haunted houses especially with the onset of reported paranormal events becoming more common in the last century or so. Mikael Hafstrom’s 1408, based on a short story by Stephen King, puts more than 90 minutes of horror into the confines of a single hotel room, but is it scary or laughable?
Mike Enslin (John Cusack) is a writer that makes a living visiting and reviewing haunted establishments, usually dismissing them as hoaxes. The sceptical Mike learns of a room at the Dolphin Hotel in New York where many visitors have met their deaths. Seeing this as the latest opportunity for a book, Enslin heads for the Dolphin Hotel but is stopped in his tracks by the hotel manager Gerald Olin (Samuel L Jackson) who offers Mike an upgrade to an expensive room, a bottle of cognac and exclusive access to documents related to 1408 on the condition the writer doesn’t stay in the room. Olin insists no one stays in 1408 anymore and warns that previous victims have not lasted more than an hour but Mike insists he can sue the hotel if they deny him access. Olin reluctantly gives Enslin the keys to 1408 and no sooner has he entered the room than his scepticism is put to the test by a series of horrific events.
Being set in one hotel room a lot of the scope is for Cusack to carry this film on his own and he does this very well. Olin’s warnings about the room Enslin is about to face are very foreboding indeed. 1408 is cleaned irregularly and when it is opened to the cleaning staff, there are two in the room at the same time with Olin supervising them both throughout. This followed an incident where a cleaner got locked in the bathroom and in the short time it took for her to be released she had blinded herself! Enslin’s experience of the room begins with the radio coming on but he quickly dismisses this as Olin playing games. Over time the strange events become more frequent with ghostly sightings of previous occupants of the room, the bedside clock switching from the time to a 60 minute countdown, with the feeling that Enslin will not survive to the end of that hour, and later in the film we have ice cold temperatures and the room falling apart all around Enslin. You’re not short of supernatural events here.
Enslin is a complex character, his dismissal of haunted locations and ghosts likely a result of the massive impact the death of his daughter, Katie (Jasmine Jessica Anthony), has had on him, while his estranged wife, Lily (Mary McCormack), is never far from his mind. As Mike suffers physical and mental torture in Room 1408 what he believes to be hallucinations in the first instance become very real threats and the spirits that occupy the room take on a more personal nature with Katie also appearing to her father. The room is always in control, responding with greater malevolence whenever the sceptical Mike continues to challenge it. What’s unclear is why the room is haunted in the first place or why the staff would keep cleaning 1408 when it’s not supposed to be open to guests anymore. As the one hour countdown ticks by we are left wondering whether Mike will survive the experience or be driven to suicide or self-harm like previous occupants of the room.
1408 has a feel of The Shining but isn’t as atmospheric as Kubrick’s masterpiece from the eighties. The events will unnerve many and there are one or two moments that will make you jump as well but I was more interested in the character of Mike Enslin and how just a single hour in the room leaves him looking like he’s suffered years of torment. 1408 has two endings and it is open to debate which of them is the best. I would favour the one I saw on the UK copy of the film which doesn’t end as well for Mike but makes for a more moving experience. Although atmospheric in places I didn’t feel uncomfortable in my seat but that didn’t stop this being an enjoyable film.
1408 is like a piece of The Shining but on its own is an effective but by no means outstanding horror film. Cusack in the lead does a highly commendable job in going mostly solo throughout and by the end you’ll be exhausted for him after his experience in 1408. Not particularly scary 1408 is still worth a look, particularly for fans of Cusack, Jackson and King.
Latest posts by Dave Brown (see all)
- Guest Post: 5 Great TV Series to Binge Watch this Summer - July 13, 2016
- The Bleaklisted Movies: V for Vendetta - December 1, 2015
- DigiWriMo (Day 30): DIGIWRIMO #digiwrimo - November 30, 2015