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¥fstrÃ¶m (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.