Spoilers call dibs on the window side.
I have been meaning to revisit this film for a while now. It’s a bit of a forgotten gem. It does encapsulate the entire psychological supernatural genre within one hotel room. In the same vein as a lot of horror films where your perception follows the protagonist, you’re never sure what you’re looking at or where are we really standing. And as the main character says, hotel rooms are already inherently creepy.
1408 (2007) was directed by Mikael Håfström with a screenplay by Matt Greenberg, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski. The original story, of course, is by Stephen King. Mike Enslin (John Cusack) is a jaded writer of top ten list books of haunted places. He’s not a fan or a believer of what he writes. He draws a rather weak following of fans, but he’s a prolific writer with enough books to pay the bills. This is all setup until Mike goes to the one place that is actually the real thing.
I’ve never read King’s novel, so we’re not here for accuracy. We’re here for effect. The movie hinges completely on Cusack’s performance from a complete skeptic to a tortured soul. The room itself is bland, with most amenities found in a hundred places but the hotel is curiously in the middle of New York City. The Dolphin is run by manager Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson) . He’s trying to convince Mike not to stay, something we know he’s going to fail at, but he also has the task to set up the anticipation for what’s in store. This is not a monster feature per se, but a mind game.
It does work, hook, line and sinker. Cusack plays Mike Enslin with the right amount of wit and sarcasm, then he humanizes him as whatever the room is starts to eat at Mike’s personal demons. Actually, the first few instances of past guest-ghosts that visit are rather bland compared to the mental anguish he’s put through. He doesn’t get much help from anybody else, the entire film is John Cusack’s performance.
The flaws do show up as we close into the last act, where a sequence of events seems to try to fool us into thinking we’ve been watching a dream sequence. This goes on a bit longer than it should, but the effect of returning both Mike and the audience back into the room works for the most part, although it’s a bit forced. At that point the premise has run its course, so mercifully we go into the final and last act which I actually did not remember so I was glad to revisit it anew. Not that I want to stay there a single minute.
Strongly recommended for fans of psychological and supernatural horror. Yes, it has several jumpscares that still work. The whole idea that you are not safe inside the same place adds a strong element of claustrophobia. The more supernatural sequences might a jaded viewer out of the experience, and of course this is not a creature feature so you don’t have one thing to fear. Your antagonist in this case has already surround you and capture you, there’s no place to run.
That will do for now.