It’s an evil fucking room
I’m not too familiar with the works of Stephen King. Despite the numerous adaptations of his work I can only attest to seeing three of them: The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile and The Mist – all of them by Frank Darabont.
With 1408 I had no idea what to expect and what I ended up seeing was a nifty little horror that’s well worth your attention.
John Cusack plays Mike Enslin a (ghost) writer who writes books about paranormal activity. He stays in haunted hotels for inspiration, regularly unimpressed with his own work and reluctant to talk about issues from the past, specifically his book Long Road to Home.
He hears about a room numbered 1408 in the Dolphin Hotel and decides to base his next piece of work on his experiences in that room which, according to the hotel manager Gerald Olin (played by a slightly reserved Samuel L. Jackson) is “an evil fucking room”. Will he survive his stay or succumb to 1408s malevolent designs?
Obviously Enslin decides to stay in the room, despite Olin’s pleading not to and what follows is a psychological examination that reveals as much about the room’s history as well as the personal history of Enslin.
He’s locked to a space where he’s forced to confront his issues and Cusack pulls off turning from an ambivalent writer to someone careering down the path towards insanity. It is very much a one man show here with other supporting characters flitting in and out.
It’s a fight between the room and himself and he’s not willing to give an inch to something he doesn’t believe in. A good detail is Enslin having a dictaphone to hand, allowing him to record his thoughts. It’s a minor detail but I liked how he kept talking to himself, something we all think reveals that a person is off his rocker but allows Enslin to try to keep a modicum of his sanity intact.
We can see how in every situation he finds himself in he tries to rationalise what is going on, trying to deny any creeping thoughts of the supernatural. The dictaphone is a plot device that’s likely been used before in horror films but is quite effective in its use here.
Another part of the film that is well done is the room itself and how director Mikael Håfström keeps it feeling fresh by changing up the scenery very now and then with some lovely visual touches (flooded room or in another instance it’s wreathed in fire).
A standout sequence is one where Enslin relieves parts of his life and we find out that he’s a very flawed character. The room tries its hardest to break him (and us) out and while it is never boring the film does suffer from a sense of predictability.
There are only a few times where your prediction of what is going to happen is incorrect and even then your guess won’t be far off. For a horror film like this you’ll always have to suspend your disbelief, questions about the room that will never to answered (what does the room want? Why does it torment people). The room is simply there.
There are no explanations for how it came into being and that is perhaps a good thing, we get less of tortured reason of being and more of Cusack being tortured mentally in this room.
1408 is an efficient and sometimes unsettling film with some very lucid imagery, at times it feels like a nightmare you can never wake up from. After seeing this I’m more willing to check out the rest of Stephen King’s vast works.