1408: A Fun Summer Diversion

Posted in Reviews at 3:44 am by Stephen

So there’s this hotel room in New York City, and anyone who goes in dies in under an hour. Yeah, it sounds silly, but 1408 by director Mikael HÃ¥fström (making his first big-budget film) is a pretty effective one-room horror flick for most of its running time. If it runs out of gas sometime in the third act, at least it was a good ride getting there.

John Cusack, my favorite working everyman actor, plays a jaded writer who stays in the room to research a book on haunted hotels. As a non-believer in the supernatural, he has to work through his inner ghouls while confronting a lot of spooky stuff (you will not be surprised to learn that it’s based on a Stephen King story). Cusack is perfectly cast here — of course he’s great as the cynical jerk, and he does a good job with the parts where he’s driven to the brink of madness by his experiences in the room. Though the bulk of the movie takes place inside that single room, Samuel L. Jackson has a small but memorable part early on as the hotel’s manager.

The first act is the strongest, as the film spends time to really build up the tension. Once the scares start coming, they’re admirably low-key and psychological for the most part. Cusack’s character behaves realistically throughout — a nice change of pace for a horror movie character — and I think that is key to our empathizing with his plight.

After a while the story kind of runs into the problem that all supernatural thrillers have, where we become sort of numb to the horror, because there seem to be no concrete rules. Whatever the writer wants to throw at us can happen, and once we feel the movie is on rails it loses a lot of its energy.

It’s still a good movie, and compared to most of the garbage in its genre it’s a real winner. If you’re sick of comic book movies or torture porn, here is a decent horror flick that’s not a bad way to spend 94 minutes.


  1. frum (1) said,

    July 3, 2007 at 11:50 pm

    I typically love this kind of movie. I am a sucker for almost anything in this genre, but, as almost always, I was disappointed in this. The beginning of the film is very good, and very entertaining; once the film becomes psychological, it lost me. When the film no longer has discernable rules, I find it impossible to be afraid; the strictures on character action and knowledge are what give the fear power to impose itself on a protagonist, and thus, the viewer.

    Anyway, that commentary was not the reason for this. It is the story that goes along with the film that is most interesting for me.

    I went to see this film in an unfamiliar yet typical multi-screen theatre, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Edmonton is an unfortunate place (sorry Edmontonians), but I was there for a week’s stay to grade diploma examinations for grade twelve English from around the province. I had already marked for five consecutive days, so my mind was a muddle. Also, I thought that it was a good opportunity to see this film, given that my wife, who hates such films, was in our home city.

    So, as I said, I watched the first third of the film, or so, with enjoyment and a few chills. About the time that Cusack’s character first enters the room to stay, one of my fellow “movie-goers” began to snore. Loudly, and with force.

    At first, I suspected that this was a novel, if juvenile, form of puerile protest of the film’s content and direction, a kind of base layman’s critique, if you will. I also suspected that it would end as abruptly as it began, once a few of my more serious and confident movie-going brethren and sistren politely, or not so politely, shushed said “snorer”.

    Alas, and alack! it was not to be. Not only did the snoring continue, but it grew in both regularity and volume. Nervous twitters and snickers erupted from various parts of the theatre, and many heads turned to investigate the source of the sound.

    At the back of the theatre, a large, slovenly dressed man wearing a baseball cap, a striped red and white shirt a-la Where’s Waldo, and torn jeans was lying as prone as his chair would permit; his snores rumbled and squealed out of his gaping mouth with regularity, and a timing that uncannily interrupted important moments in the film.

    We sent an envoy, a diplomat, to wake this gentleman up. After he “gently” woke him, we applauded our interloper’s efforts and returned to the film, glad that the snoring had ended at last, sure that the knowledge of his accidental behaviour and his commensurate shame would quell any lingering desire on his part to sleep and snore anew.

    Fool me once, as they say. This second wave of snoring erupted at a particularly delicate moment in the film, a moment of emotional gravitas ruined by a slobbering eruption from said snorer. This continued to the end of the film. On the way out, this man did not wake, even when people directed nasty comments his way, until someone threw an empty drink at him and kicked him in the leg. He was completely unfazed by the treatment.

    Whatever might have redeemed the latter half of the film for me was ruined by this man. I wanted to hurt him. I imagine many did. However, as Canadians are wont to do, we did nothing other than glare and stare menacingly at this man whose rudeness was so appalling, and so funny, that it was difficult to know how to respond.

    The horror. The horror.

  2. Stephen (221) said,

    July 4, 2007 at 4:43 am

    The time this happened to me, it was a drunk bum in the front row. Americans not being so polite, he was the subject of many loud insults and then got into a fight with security as they kicked him out.

    I got a free movie ticket out of the deal when I complained to management afterwards.

    I agree that the movie becomes less good once it kicks in as that’s when you lose the rules. Still, I found the first part where he’s in the room and really investigating it cool, but the last third is why I can’t recommend it more strongly.

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