I gotta tell you, this movie starts out great. Every tired hack device in modern Horror movie storytelling was stripped out.
There is no ten minute "Gotcha" scene which dissolves to a "The Next Day", "One Year Later" "20 Years Later" scene which drags for the next 20 minutes. Instead, 1408 starts with an actual story!
Mike Enslin (John Cusack: STAND BY ME, CRADLE WILL ROCK, IDENTITY), is an author of various ghost stories. These stories revolve around investigations into hotels and other so-called haunted places where Mike finds there is nothing to the mystery at all. He writes and tells his cult audience that there is nothing out there that he has ever found. Yet they read his books, fervent in their belief that he will find that ghost (nothing Mike would like better), and find themselves scared by his books. Something he doesn't "get" but is used to hearing. Do these people even read his books?
Naturally it comes to pass that among the brochures of various hotels, whose owners swear up and down that they have a "Spook", comes a postcard from The Dolphin Hotel. Unlike all the other hotel ghosties which are usually off the beaten path and could use any free publicity they get, the Dolphin is a staid, upscale hotel in the heart of Manhattan.
Stay Out Of Room 1408: 1+4+8=13, get it?. Mike gets it and thinks, 'What the hell?' It's just another hotel after all, right? The heart of New York City will make a nice end piece to his new book.
Except the staff of the Dolphin won't rent him the hotel room. Not today, tomorrow, not ever.
Using the force of his publisher and their legal team, Mike bullies The Dolphin management into letting him stay in 1408. They cannot deny him a room, by law, that is unoccupied.
Mike shows up at The Dolphin where he is made to wait, and then invited into the manager's office.
Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson: THE EXORCIST III, JURASSIC PARK, SPHERE, DEEP BLUE SEA, UNBREAKABLE, KILL BILL Vol. 2, THE INCREDIBLES, SNAKES ON A PLANE), is a quiet diplomatic man and unlike the kinds of hotels that Mike Enslin is used to writing about, doesn't need the extra attention: especially the kind of attention that Mike's book would bring. Gerald also wants to talk Mike out of staying in room 1408. When Mike asks if that is because of the phantasm, ghost, spooks, poltergeist, Gerald waves his hand. "It's none of that," he says quietly, then leans in. "The room is fucking evil."
Of course there is no denying Mike Enslin. Nothing can bait him more than denial of what he wants and he is more psyched up than ever to enter room 1408.
Upon entry he is less than impressed. It's just a hotel room. But things start happening soon enough and Mike finds himself a believer within minutes. Except by the time he believes, he also cannot escape.
1408 builds the suspense very nicely and by the halfway mark things reach a very scary head when Mike tries to escape his room through the hotel's very large and antique ventilation system.
But to my dawning astonishment, after the halfway mark, the movie is over. Everything scary that was going to happen, has happened. After that it is all special effects and maudlin histrionics (not, you understand, real emotional storytelling - and I can get choked up watching MONSTERS, INC.). There is nothing scary happening. The room gets hot, cold, wet, a painting of a ship suddenly turns into a tv screen and the ship is sailing on stormy waters. The floor tears up, the walls tear out, but Nothing. Scary. Happens!
And there is still the rest of the movie, which turns into some kind of sappy Lifetime Channel crap. Apparently, what Mike Enslin really needs is to learn how to handle his grief over the loss of his young daughter, Katie (Jasmine Jessica Anthony: DEAD WRITER, THE BUTTERFLY ROOM); for which he has become a recluse and left his wife Lily (Mary McCormack: K-PAX). The evil in the room is actually teaching him a valuable life lesson in letting go and accepting death.
Don't misunderstand: This is a very well made movie. The cinematography is quite atmospheric thanks to Benoît Delhomme (THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY). The music by Gabriel Yared (THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY) is pitch perfect and Mikael's directing is well paced.
It's just not scary.
1408 will pound thy head with Mike's since deceased brave but dying child, whose only dimension is to be, a brave but dying child. That's it. Her whole raison d'être is a decal stuck to this movie so Mike may mope.
If you're at a comedy club and the Comic isn't funny, it doesn't matter how good that person looks, how rubbery their face, how boisterous their energy, loud their voice or foul their language. It doesn't matter how edgy, polemic, or controversial they are. It doesn't matter if that comic is likable and charming and hates the same people you hate. Hell, it doesn't matter how ritzy the club is or how expensive the drinks are - If the Comic Isn't Funny.
That person's act isn't just dead: The club is dead, and so is your entire night at that place. After the halfway point, 1408 isn't scary, and nothing else they do to hide that - no shouting, no histrionics - matters. It's a Horror Thriller. It's supposed to Horrify and Thrill.
After John Carpenter directed THE FOG, (also directed Stephen King's CHRISTINE) he sat in the editing room and slowly came to the horrifying conclusion that he had made a Horror movie without any horror. He forgot the scare! THE FOG wouldn't even make a spooky Made-For-Television movie, let alone a theatrical release Horror movie. He was so appalled, so embarrassed by his work, that he actually decided to chuck it all and leave directing forever. He moved back home and was going to take up a job as a Junior college teacher.
Holy crap, imagine that!
Fortunately his producer Debra Hill pulled him back. She convinced him that if he didn't fix this mess, he was hanging her out to dry as well. He had to return and re-shoot some scenes, and they should even spend their own money to make sure they got it right. THE FOG still doesn't stand as a great movie, but John at least made it salvageable at his own personal sacrifice.
You won't see any sacrifice in this movie. What you will see is 1408 die at the halfway mark and meander for the next hour with great sturm und drang as it goes through the motions.
Two Shriek Girls
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