Tuesday, 2 October 2007
1408 (2007) dir. Mikael Håfström
Starring: John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson
“1408” was a decent box office success and I received a few good recommendations about it. But I have to say I was sorely disappointed. It’s a classic Stephen King story – a writer haunted by spirits of his past – directed by a young and talented Swedish director, Mikael “Evil” Håfström. Unfortunately the film is a sub-par ghost film heavy on pyrotechnics but short on psychological scares.
John Cusack plays Mike Enslin, a hack writer who pens real ghost story travelogues (like ‘Haunted Houses of New England’). Mike dreams of writing respectable fiction, but when his young daughter died tragically four years ago, both his career and his marriage fell apart. While on a book publicity tour he receives an anonymous postcard telling him NOT to visit room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel in New York City. Mike, of course, takes the bait and travels to New York to stay in the room and document his findings for a future book. The hotel manager Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson) gives Mike the backstory on the room, which includes numerous deaths and disfigurements over the 75 year history of the hotel. But despite Mike’s experience in investigating paranormal activity he’s actually a skeptic and, so, doesn’t believe a word of Olin’s stories.
With all warnings ignored Mike takes the room for the night. Predictably, freaky things start happening in the room – the radio turns on by itself, windows close by themselves. The paranormal events escalate and become grander and grander. Mike starts seeing the ghosts of previous suicidal residents, then his ‘hallucinations’ turn into large scale upheavals of the room. At one point the room becomes engulfed in water and Mike appears to drown in the room. The real fear for Mike comes when his young daughter appears before him. Up until the very end we’re not sure what exactly is going on, whether ghosts of the past plague his brain, or if indeed it’s all just a dream.
The film begins well, and teases us with a classic build-up sequence. Samuel Jackson has a great role as the harbinger of the room’s evil. Remember the sequence in “The Shining” when the manager interviews Jack and describes the morbid details of the Overlook Hotel. “1408” is definitely NOT “The Shining” but the scene serves the same purpose. The paranormal events have a randomness that reduces the mystery and suspense. The freaky stuff gets so outlandish so fast that all creepiness in the film is lost. Large scale action prevails over what should be a psychological mind-bender. There’s a couple of twists that just jerk us around but they don’t add anything to the mystery or secrets of the room. Håfström throws in everything but the kitchen sink to keep our interest but to no avail.
The subplot with Mike’s estranged wife and deceased child feels perfunctory, like a last straw attempt to scare us when nothing else in the film was working. Granted, there is a moment near the end when Mike is embracing the ghost of his daughter, which is a terrific moment of acting for Cusack, but unfortunately it’s a lost moment in the excessive waterfalls, fires and other pyrotechnics that bloat another failed Stephen King story. A couple weeks ago Cusack was quoted as saying he thought, over the course of his career, he’d only made 10 good films. I doubt “1408” makes his list.
Buy it here: 1408 (Two-Disc Collector's Edition)