Review: 1408 – A Room Worth Checking Into
I’ll be the first to admit I am not the average horror consumer. I am not interested in torture and human butchery, evil killing juggernauts, biblical good vs. evil or end times fare. The stuff that has driven most of American box office horror ticket sales leaves me cold. 1408 on the other hand, repeatedly gave me the chills.
The story is recognizable Stephen King fare. Writer Mike Enslin (John Cusack) has made a living at being a mediocre writer, selling guide books to the paranormal that he doesn’t actually believe in. One day, he is confronted by an enigmatic post card for the Dolphin Hotel which tells him: “Don’t stay in room 1408“.
Upon arriving at the Dolphin Hotel, Enslin is ready to confront this room which has been the site of numerous horrific deaths. Standing in Enslin’s way is the Dolphin’s manager, played with gravitas and sarcastic glee by Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson does everything in his power to keep him from staying the room, assuring him that no guest has ever lasted more than one hour. Cusack needless to say, isn’t about to leave without staying the night.
Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick and Wes Craven are all filmmakers who achieved great things with in the thriller and horror genres due to their understanding of the human psyche and the nature of fear. Hitchcock would tell you that to terrorize an audience you don’t have a bomb explode when no one is expecting it, you show the bomb under the table and the unwitting victims enjoying a meal as the timer ticks down. There is a lot more to frightening an audience than simply a well-placed camera, a clever cut or carefully constructed sound, and thankfully, Håfström isn’t the only one providing the fuel for the fire.
Writers Greenberg and Anderson have taken King’s material and developed a story both economically and effectively told. They like King, know that horror comes from the common tragedies in our lives as they play out in extraordinary ways. The cinematically well-read moviegoer will recognize not only tropes and constructs from The Shining, The Haunting (Robert Wise) and even bits of Disney’s Haunted Mansion attraction, but that’s to the film’s credit. This film innovates on the classics rather than stealing from them.
Also to the credit of the filmmakers is the character of the room itself. It’s as well, if not better developed than any other character in the movie. I could go into some very specific details here, but rather than spoil the fun, let’s just say as time in the room starts counting down, the stratagem of the room becomes eminently clear. You will also probably leave the theatre with yet another song that you’ll never listen to in quite the same way.
What is interesting and gives the film much of its substance, has to do with the film’s thoughts on belief. In our materialistic and rational world, we are so quick to remove ourselves from the sphere of belief in “things-greater-than-ourselves”. Is it because of the inherent danger that belief in something could give rise to a perceived lack of control in our lives? Is belief something that adults give to children or is it what they take away? And what happens when we start removing a child’s belief in mystery? Do we remove a capacity to fully embrace belief in themselves? Has our own inability to believe in a deeper mythos for humanity robbed us of our own ability to believe in ourselves or our own future?
1408 is not a dry examination of these ideas but an entertaining and chilling ride. It seeks to entertain above all else, but thankfully it doesn’t take the audience for a bunch of passive viewers looking to have painful images jammed into our eyes and hearts.
The best way to go into this movie is to do so not knowing what is on the other side of that door. When I went in, I expected to have a few laughs at best. The laughs were mercifully there, but thankfully so were the scares, as well as some very smart work by cast and filmmakers alike. Perhaps not as frightening a premise as a modern-day Noah building another ark, but fortunately 1408 also does a lot more than just float.
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