Reviews

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

1408

Director: Mikael Håfström (Derailed)
Novel: Sergei Lukyanenko, Vladimir Vasiliev
Screenplay: Matt Greenberg, Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
Producer: Lorenzo di Bonaventura
Starring: John Cusack, Mary McCormack, Jasmine Jessica Anthony, Samuel L. Jackson, Tony Shalhoub
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 94 min
read my spoiler disclaimer



reviewed by Andrew James
     As scary movies go these days, 1408 is a nice step up from the usual torture-porn that we've had a barrage of in the past few years. In this film, we have genuine scares and frights that are not reduced to an ice pick through an eyeball or a razor blade cutting someone's achilles tendon.

      1408 is the story of Mike Enslin, a writer of a series of "touristy" books relating to so-called, haunted hotels around the country. Mike has become a real skeptic over the years as he's never actually seen a real phantasm, but makes a good living writing about how they supposedly inhabit various hotels around the country. One day, Mike receives an anonymous postcard instructing him not to enter room #1408 in a certain, posh New York Hotel. Naturally skeptical, but curious, Mike decides to give it a shot. Arriving at the hotel, the manager (Jackson) tries extremely hard, although unsuccessfully, to convince Mike not to stay in that room. "No one has made it more than an hour in that room," he says. What Mike finds in the room is a fright fest beyond belief that only Stephen King could come up with.

      I have to admit, on more than one occasion did I have hairs stand up a little on the back of my neck during this movie. That's a tough thing for movies to accomplish for me as I've gotten older, so that alone makes this film (for me) a worthy watch.

      Part of what makes the film work is its claustrophobic feel. In a similar film, The Shining (also written by Stephen King), which also takes place in a hotel and revolves around a scary room, the main characters have free roam of this gigantic motel. In 1408, that's exactly where we are stuck: in room 1408. There is no where to run and there is no where to hide. Mike has no choice but to ride out the terror and hope for the best. To make it worse, a count down clock has started and Mike has 60 minutes to escape or else. What that "else" is, we don't know, but this adds much to the anticipation and suspense.

      Although I was genuinely scared on more than one occassion, some of the movie did feel a little bit like it was swamped by a little too much unnecessary CGI and some cheap parlour tricks that could've been done by a creative group of boy scouts putting on their annual, fund-raising haunted house at the local church. Coupled with this are the moments of amped speaker volume and "jump out at you" moments that generally just piss me off, rather than scare me. It's a cop-out tactic, but we know they're going to be there; they're in every film of this kind so it's to be expected. Even with these drawbacks, there are enough elements that are truly creepy and scary to give the film a positive review.

      One of the things that work best is the anticipation of what is to come. We sort of know what we're getting into even before entering the theater, but the scene in which the manager is trying to convince Mike not to stay in the room has an electric chemistry and shows two of America's favorite actors sparring a bit with some fun dialogue that absolutely had me convinced that WE DO NOT want to enter this room. The way it is explained should've been enough to convince anyone, even Mike Enslin, that they shouldn't enter the room under almost any circumstances. So when we're walking towards the room, the suspense is almost unbearable.

      However, for those that are big Sam Jackson fans, you should know going in that he is hardly in the film at all. He only has about 10 minutes of actual screen time. For the time that he is there, it works well, but he's not a major player in the picture. This is all Cusack all the time. Which is not a bad thing as Cusack is Cusack and he plays the part extremely well. In one fairly dramatic, sub-plotted flashback in which Mike is recalling his deceased daughter, we see that Cusack can actually act as well as play the usual characture of himself that he usually portrays.

      Most important of all is the how everything ties up. There is no cop out, cheese or eye-roller of an ending. Stephen King adaptations are always very hit or miss, but like 'em or hate 'em, one thing he knows how to do is not leave his audience hanging. And I think after the final act you'll leave the theater feeling satisfied and not that feeling of being cheated as you might with most horror of today.

      Though it does have some schlocky effects and tactics at various points throughout the film, 1408 delivers what most horror films of today can't: true frights and suspense. There are no teenage girls running through the forest, there are no deranged psychos hiding in the shadows, there are no axes through the skull and best of all, there are no cars breaking down in the middle of nowhere for no reason. Is this the greatest horror film of all time? Of course not; but hopefully it is the start of a trend to getting away from torture/exploitation and bringing us some new ideas of what fright can truly be (even if it is PG-13 fright). It may not seem like much, but what is here is one damn spooky room; that if you didn't know any better, you might think you've been given some really, REALLY bad acid should you decide to enter.



Press "PLAY" to watch the trailer


Links:
IMDb profile - full cast and crew
Official Site
FLIXSTER PROFILE for 1408

Posted by Andrew James in
Review

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