Although there hasn't been a definitive horror adaptation of a Stephen King novel for some time, anticipation was beginning to brew for this translation of the standout shocker from the 'Everything's Eventual' collection. Would 1408, a haunted hotel room horror to be followed by Frank Darabont's adaptation of recent supernatural King chiller The Mist sit alongside such esteemed King to screen horror successes as Carrie, The Shining and Misery? Well audiences may have to wait for the latter as 1408, while a step up from the recent array of claustrophobic containment horrors witnessed in Vacancy and Hostel Part II, may be brooding with terror but it is eventually hindered by narrative distortion, along with a convoluted and deceptive twist ending that almost sinks the whole show down to the abysmal depths of dreary King interpretations Dreamcatcher and Secret Window. John Cusack welcomely brings the same disillusioned charm he brought to The Grifters to play Mike Enslin, a writer of trashy ghost travelogues who checks into the titular hotel room in an attempt to debunk its proclaimed historical hostility. But, before 1408 gives way to supernatural CGI and flashback overkill, the film nicely capitalizes on the general mystique and ambivalent occurrences that surround the titular hotel room. This is given additional creditability by Samuel L Jacksons over looming presence as the weary manager of the reputable Dolphin hotel, forever warning of the room's decadent hostility: Know one has lasted more than an hour in 1408", and later proclaiming that its an "Evil fucking room!". Jackson aside this is arguably a one-man show, and Cusack, who follows in the solitarian thriller footsteps of James Stewart in Rear Window, convinces as a man slowly unhinged by the supernatural entities that roam inside the room, along with doing battle with his own inner demons that resurface to etch him into insanity. And director Mikael Håfström (who directed Brit set thriller Derailed) has fun playing physical and mental mind games with both his leading character and the audience. The well chosen creepy reoccurring theme of the Carpenters song 'We've Only Just Begun' playing on a disconnected clock radio, suicidal poltergeists flinging themselves out of windows, turned up toilet paper, bricked out windows and condescending room service pepper the film with an eerie, ghoulishly surreal atmosphere worthy of a Twilight Zone episode. One particularly freakish moment (featured heavily in the trailer) occurs when our protagonist frantically attempts to alert someone from across the hotel building, only for the shrouded figure in the adjacent window to begin mimicking Enslin's own movements, eventually revealing it as his own reflection along with a menacing knife wielding figure suddenly seen creeping into frame to attack him. And there is a neat nod to Hitchcock with the infamous Vertigo track in-zoom out camera distortion shot which encapsulates our protagonist's mental plight as he, at one point, hangs perilously out of the hotel window. Kudos also goes for the use of confined space and its haunting claustrophobic possibilities to evoke an appropriate sense of dread and isolation, but after a generally unsettling 45 minutes the room (and the film) literally begins to crack at the seams. Introducing themes of parental guilt over a lost daughter and the disintegration of family values is a little hard to swallow given that they are addressed so late in the day, feeling like an obvious attempt to induce the piece with some unnecessary deeper psychological meaning.
rating: 2.5One feels Cusack has been here before with Identity, another haunting hotel room thriller which also managed to establish suspense but faulted towards the end due to an implausible pull-the-rug-from-underneath-you climax. As a consequence 1408 is best remembered as a possible superior entry in a guest starring episode of The Outer Limits rather than a triumptant page to screen representation of the celebrated King of horror prose.