- John Cusack as Mike Enslin
- Samuel L. Jackson as Gerald Olin
- Mary McCormack as Lily Enslin
Based on a Stephen King short story, 1408 creates an eerie and genuinely unnerving ambience that finds horror in the psychological mould thanks to a welcome lack of gore.
Mike Enslin is an author of books based around the occult and paranormal. His shtick is to visit supposedly haunted places and debunk whatever is allegedly creepy there. He is a cynical and sardonic guy who finds the whole supernatural thing to be nothing more than an attempt to make a profit, but there is something that keeps drawing him to these locations. In his mail, he comes across something that references a room 1408 at The Dolphin Hotel in New York. Curious about it, he checks into the hotel. The manager of it Gerald Olin, sternly warns him not to check into the room under any circumstances. In the hotel’s history, there have been multitudes of unexplained deaths attributed to the room. Mike scoffs at Olin’s claims and by threatening legal action, forces his hand to let him stay. Once in the room, Mike sets about investigating the alleged paranormal activity. Nothing much happens at first, before little by little, a genuine terror and force takes over both Mike and the room. The clock in the room starts a timer from sixty minutes as well as continually playing The Carpenters ‘We’ve Only Just Begun’. The temperature plummets to freezing levels. Strange phone calls are put to the room. Probably most alarming are the spectres from the room’s past that begin accosting him and the eerie presence of his deceased daughter taking up residence to torment him. And when he tries to exit the room, he finds that every possible way out is not there and he is now locked in a desperate battle to survive something that he viewed as impossible at the start. Now fearing for his sanity, just how long can he hold on as the presence in the room grows powerful and more startling?
On directing duties there is Mikael Håfström, who delights in bringing an old-fashioned style horror to the screen and terrifying us without cheap gore. Employing some excellent camerawork of tight close-ups and the occasional jump, Håfström is adept at making psychological terror. He sets up the character of Mike very well. He must do battle with his own demons that the room brings to life, adding an emotional slant to the character and it deepens the tone of the movie. The slow build up of 1408 is key to its creepy success. Mikael Håfström knows how to begin with a sense of icy restraint and then crank up the encroaching dread as Mike becomes ever more disturbed by the phenomena he experiences in the eponymous room. The room is almost a character in itself as the events transpire for most of the film’s duration in it. We are never explicitly told what it is that is in the room, just that it is something of a presence. I respected the movie for not going on the obvious route and revealing everything, opting to leave it up to us to fathom what truly resides in 1408. Creepy moments abound(a lot of the time due to the golden tinge and menace of the cinematography) not least Mike’s desperate attempt at escape out of the window that reveals that there are no rooms on either side. Or are there? Then there is the frantic spinning of delusion as Mike thinks he’s beaten the room but is dragged right back into it in a hair-raising set piece. Now I must state that 1408 goes a bit overboard in the last half thanks to a flurry of constant CGI. While it is a bit distracting, the finely crafted terror of the rest of the picture manages to bring 1408 back to greatness and ensure that disaster isn’t allowed to set in. Except this flaw, 1408 is largely an imaginative and chilling exercise in old-school terror which allows it to stand out among the glut of gory horror films that have been found in the last decade or so. A simple story with ghoulish intent can have a bigger impact which 1408 craftily showcases with haunting intent. An echoing and reverberating score layers on the levels of suspense and unease for both the terrified Mike and us. Put that with a gloriously done sound effects, that isolate and then accentuate the noises and surroundings to terrifying effect and 1408 casts a nail-biting spell.
For a lot of 1408, it is mostly John Cusack by himself on screen. And it must be said he performs admirably and never loses the attention of the audience. Starting out as snarky and cynical, his attitude is eroded away as his deep-seated fears and his past that he has bottled up emerge to torment him. Cusack is superbly cast here and gives it all he has by charting the descent of this man who is forced to acknowledge things he didn’t think we’re real in terrifying situations. He is a veritable one man show for a lot of 1408 and his acting never fails to generate results. Samuel L. Jackson is also very effective in the smaller role of the frightened hotel manager. Jackson is an actor known for turning up the dial and rocking being manic, but here he underplays it with a sense of dignity and fear that is most befitting of the part. Mary McCormack plays Mike’s estranged wife in a few scenes, but is never really given a lot to actually do in the big scheme of things.
I wouldn’t say it is the best Stephen King adaptation( as there have been some pretty good ones) and the third act gets a bit over the top, but 1408 is still a deeply unsettling chiller that wonderfully favours atmosphere and plot over gratuitous violence. You won’t be sleeping soundly after viewing 1408 as it makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand to attention through its unusual spell.