Posted on July 28, 2007 by Flames
Reviewed by: Jason Thorson
The genre of story telling that has best succeeded in giving me the creeps is the tried and true ghost story. It tends to be reliably frightening in written form, and although less so on film, it’s hard to find someone who’s not been given a heebie-jeebies overdose by The Changeling (1980). Other successes worth mentioning include The Haunting (1963), Poltergeist (1982), and more recently, The Others (2001). Unfortunately, the list of bad haunted fright films is far lengthier. This brings us to the genre’s most recent offering. To describe 1408 in appropriately metaphysical terms, Swedish director, Mikael Håfström’s film is stuck in movie purgatory, somewhere between good and bad.
The two things 1408 have going for it are immediately apparent. They are John Cusack and an interesting premise derived from a Stephen King short story by the same name. Cusack plays Mike Enslin, a talented novelist who’s recently been making a living writing “10 most haunted” books despite being a skeptic. Mike’s latest book brings him to Manhattan’s historic Dolphin Hotel where the deadly room 1408 has bested all of its guests and all within an hour, no less. After the hotel’s manager (Samuel L. Jackson) tries in vain to talk him out of staying in 1408 (even utilizing the vaunted Sam Jackson F-bomb), Mike’s stubbornness and skepticism win out. He finds his way up to the infamous room and within minutes things begin to go awry.
John Cusack is fantastic as the cynical author. There’s depth here that he conveys with a truly dynamic performance. We get Mike’s troubled past and domestic adversity through subtext that never hits us on the nose, but rather it manifests through sadness, humor, and terror. When the script is working Cusack makes the film crackle, and when the script fails, he prevents it from completely crashing and burning. Unfortunately, Cusack is forced to carry the poorly-conceived second act on his shoulders and not surprisingly the results are mixed at best. However, it’s here that he deserves the most credit for making a bit of lemonade out of an abundance of lemons.
The problem is that 1408’s midsection sinks to the level of most modern era ghost films. It loses the intrigue built around Enslin’s past and replaces it with flashy-but-boring money shots. The second act is set piece after set piece of ghostly shenanigans that are predictable and rendered in overly polished CGI. The action neither rises nor falls, but instead it remains static. Forgive the unintended pun, but never before have ghosts seemed so lifeless. In this genre, haunted places and/or their apparitions are integral characters and in 1408 they’re not written as such.
It’s not until the third act that 1408 becomes engaging again as the story refocuses on the character-oriented material that made the first act work so well. By this time the main tension has worn out its welcome, but the subplots involving Enslin’s deceased daughter and his estranged wife hang in the balance and they provide Cusack with more fodder for his dramatic virtuosity.
1408 is nowhere near the scariest ghost movie out there, nor is it the most original, but it’s good enough to devote a couple hours toward seeing it. It’s also good enough to leave feeling frustrated by its unfulfilled potential. As it floats out there with countless other films in movie purgatory, I’ll be waiting patiently for the next creepy ghost movie to come along.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5