Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

Mike Enslin (John Cusack) is a paranormal investigator and author of books exposing so-called hotel hauntings across the country. His latest investigation brings him to the Dolphin Hotel in the heart of Manhattan where, reportedly, one room in particular is the site of scores of unexplained deaths and suicides. He cajoles hotel manager, Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson), to let him stay in the room for a night but Olin warns Enslin that no one can stay for over an hour in room “1408.”

To me, there has not been a boffo big screen adaptation of a Stephen King story since Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.” Therefore, I was more than pleased, when leaving the theater, with the first-rate 1408.” Here we have an honest to God chiller thriller that, more than a few times, gave me sweaty palms and a real case of the creeps.

The story begins with Enslin searching for The Weeping Beech Inn at an out of the way locale. The eager owners greet the investigator and tell him of the strange doings that take place on the third floor of their B&B. The skeptical Mike spends the night and proves that the stories are simply bunk. It is just another of the many faux haunted hotels that are the fodder for his books. His next port of call is the Dolphin Hotel where over 50 mysterious deaths have taken place since 1912. To Mike, it is just another haunting that he will debunk.

1408” is a slow-building horror story that runs for 35 minutes before anything chilling even begins to happen. Director Mikael Hafstrom takes his time building up to this first creepy hair-raising moment when Mike, locked in the room, finds his bed turned down and complimentary mints left on the pillows. This bit of tongue-in-cheek humor belies what is to come. The film takes its time to get to this point but, very soon, the gloves come off and the horror ramps up and up and up. The result is a fast-paced horror flick that grabs you by the throat and does not let go.

Although the film costars Samuel L. Jackson, Tony Shalhoub and Mary McCormack, this is a one-hander that John Cusack easily dominates. The always-likable actor is center screen for almost the entirety of “1408” and he holds it with his deft characterization of paranormal investigator Mike Enslin. Samuel L. Jackson, as manager of the Dolphin, is only in the film very briefly but the actor fleshes out Gerald Olin with aplomb and, yes, humor as he describes the titular suite as “an evil f***ing room.”

Techs are also first-rate with the past victims of the room shown to good effect. The special F/X have a high creep factor as room 1408 closes in on the frightened Enslin. It is telling of a good horror flick when the Carpenter’s song, “We Only Just Begun,” repeatedly used, gave me goose bumps.

Comparisons will be made to that classic, “The Shining,” but this, I think, is a good thing about 1408,” My only complaint with the film is that it takes a bit too long to find its ending. That does not stop me from giving it a solid B+.

On a dark and stormy night, author Mike Enslin (John Cusack, "The Ice Harvest") checks in to the Weeping Beach Inn to check out its ghosts for his new paranormal book on haunted hotels.  He cynically dismisses the very notion as nothing but a marketing gimmick by those rerouted highways have left behind, but a postcard he receives from the Dolphin Hotel in New York City intrigues him into looking up its history and he becomes compelled to book room "1408."

Adaptations of Stephen King horror have produced wildly uneven results from the classic ("Carrie," "The Shining," "Misery") to the disaster ("Children of the Corn," "Maximum Overdrive," "Dreamcatcher"), the middling ("Cujo," "Christine," "Secret Window") to the under appreciated ("Dolores Claiborne," "Apt Pupil"). Screenwriters Matt Greenberg ("Reign of Fire") and the "Ed Wood" and upcoming "Cell" team of Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski may not have come up with a classic, but director Mikael Håfström ("Evil," "Derailed") milks it for all its worth - "1408" has some genuine creeps.

Enslin perceives the message warning him away from the Dolphin's notorious room as a come-on and even the artful protestations, manipulations and downright pleading from manager Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson, "Snakes on a Plane," "Black Snake Moan"), forced to book the room via an obscure state law, cannot dissuade Mike from staying the night.  'Most people don't last an hour,' Olin tells him after recounting tales of deaths both macabre and mundane from the very first week of the hotel room's existence.

Armed with a bottle of expensive cognac, Michael enters his room and notes that yes, it has its oddities.  The bedroom has no windows and one of the artworks is vaguely sinister.  He's even rattled when the alarm clock goes off blaring The Carpenters' "Only Just Begun," and surprised when a hotel mechanic refuses to enter, instead instructing him on how to fix a malfunctioning thermostat. Once the clock decides to turn itself into a 60 minute stopwatch, things start to get really interesting, so bizarre that Enslin tries to talk himself down by clinging onto the belief that Olin's spiked his booze, but what 1408 capitalizes on is its occupants own deep-seated demons.

Besides the jolts of things like ghostly inhabitants recreating their deaths, dopplegangers in adjacent apartments and architecture that can reconfigure itself like an Escher painting, what "1408" brings to the table is an underlying dread that permeates the proceedings even when things begin to look up.  John Cusack, who essentially delivers a one man show, really lets himself loose as a cynic who unravels to a primal scream of guilt and loss.  This is far worthier material for the actor than his earlier foray into the 'psychological thriller/haunted motel' genre with "Identity."  And while the actor largely carries the show, support is noteworthy, particularly from Jackson once again relishing dropping 'F' bombs on his nemesis.  Len Cariou ("Flags of Our Fathers") and young Jasmine Jessica Anthony are effective spirits.

Art direction by Stuart Kearns and Doug J. Meerdink achieves the feel of an old NYC hotel that has seen better days but still has charm and character and the special effects team and director Håfström provide the sinister edge. And while things may go a bit overboard in 1408, the story has a unique and unexpected way of doubling back on itself that more than compensates.  "1408" is a very satisfying addition to a genre that all too often disappoints.

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