a critiQal film review 1408 (2007)

Plot: Renowned horror novelist Mike Enslin (Cusack) only believes what he can see with his own two eyes. After a string of bestsellers discrediting paranormal events in the most infamous haunted houses and graveyards around the world, Enslin’s phantom-free run of long and lonely nights is about to change forever when he checks into suite 1408 of the notorious Dolphin Hotel for his latest project.

977 words (Est. Reading Time 4m 53s)
  • ...Cusack’s performance will keep the viewer tuned in to this adaptation.

Since I’ve been a huge Stephen King fan for a number of years, I’m always interested in films based on his books…and 1408 was no exception. While not all of the movies based on his books have been worth watching, occassional gems will pop up (Misery (1990), Pet Sematary (1989), Carrie (1976), etc). As an added bonus, this particular film also includes a couple of good actors, namely John Cusack, and critiQal fave, Samuel L. Jackson.

Still, knowing that many of Stephen King’s novels haven’t worked out so well in their incarnations on the big screen, 1408 was one film I was going to wait for the DVD for. Knowing it was coming to DVD, I purposely didn’t re-read the short story from “Everything’s Eventual” that the film is based on, preferring to go into the film without knowing what to expect…or to be disappointed by how much the film version differs from the written version (of course, after watching the film, I immediately grabbed my copy of the book to re-read the story). But would all my preparation help me enjoy 1408, or would this be just another failed Stephen King translation?

The actors all did pretty good jobs in their roles in 1408. Samuel L. Jackson, as usual, stole the scenes he appeared in, and his slightly creepy hotel manager (complete with white tufts of hair lining the sides of his goatee) is another good performance by this talented actor. While he isn’t in the film for more than a few sequences, the lack of volume of his acting is made up for by the quality.

John Cusack, who has managed to keep a good, solid, acting career alive for a couple of decades now, takes a break from his normal comedic/love-sick performances, and delves into the deeper side of his character in 1408. His character is troubled from day one, and descends further into depression as the film progresses…and Cusack does a good job of expressing that descent for the viewers. Cusack connects with the audience, and his emotions become catching. He gets frightened or angry, the viewer catches a whiff of that emotion, and it settles over them almost without them realizing it.

Since 1408 is based on a 40-page short story (at least in the hardcover version of the novel), viewers may not expect much of a plot. However, the filmmakers do a good job of taking the short story as a starting point, and adding to it. In the book, there is no mention of the main character’s family aside from a deceased brother. In the film, the character has a wife and a deceased daughter, both of which enter much more largely in the film than the deceased brother ever did in the book. Expanding on the plot rather than changing it entirely is a good idea, as readers will not be upset by what 1408 contains, as they can see the basis from the book.

True, the film is glamoured up for Hollywood, but overall the plot stays true to the story pretty much the whole way through. Of course, the film is a bit longer, so the main character spends a lot more time in room 1408 than he does in the book, but even the new experiences he encounters in the room are well done, and blend in seamlessly with events from the book.

One especially interesting scene that is entirely new has been shown in previews of 1408. Cusack’s character Mike, in the room, goes to the window and sees a man in a window across the street from him. He yells…the man doesn’t answer. As he continues to try to get the man’s attention, he realizes the man is copying his actions. Grabbing a nearby lamp, he brings it up to his face. The man copies him…only to reveal that the man looks identical to himself…and a woman holding a knife leaping towards the man’s back. Mike turns around quickly…and the woman is in the room with him. He screams, rushes to a corner, puts his hands in front of his face to protect himself…and the woman disappears.

That is one of the creepiest scenes of 1408…and is never mentioned in the book. In fact, the book glosses over most of what happens to Mike in that room, while the film spends most of it’s time regaling viewers with what Mike is going through. And those experiences are well portrayed, thanks to some decent special effects (ghosts looking like they are old television signals – grainy and lined – are a nice touch too). While some of the special effects are not too impressive (Mike climbs out a window and clings to the side of the hotel – and the viewer knows he is actually horizontal and the camera is tilted – this one is older than the old “Batman” live-action TV show), most of the events that occur in the room are realistic enough to keep the viewer hooked into the film.

While 1408 does stray too much for a typical Hollywood ending, and uses a few too many cliched movie tricks, Cusack’s performance through it all will keep the viewer tuned in. While not as outright bone-chilling as, say, Saw (2004), the film does have that creepy edge to it, enough to give viewers if not a chill, at least a slightly disquieting feeling.

Is it worth multiple viewings? This one is tough. While a creepy horror film, 1408 loses a lot of it’s appeal after the ending is known. The acting is good enough to watch over and over, but the film itself doesn’t really make the viewer want to jump back in for another ride, as the creepy feeling this film induces tends to linger.

Still, this creepy thriller is one of the good ones, and is worth at least the first viewing.

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