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1408

Reviewed By Erik Childress
Posted 06/22/07 14:00:00

"Maybe Less Than 23 - But Over 61 Times Better"
4 stars (Worth A Look)

During a recent trip to Las Vegas I stayed at the Luxor hotel, the black pyramid with the nightly beam of light that can be viewed from outer space. Part of the hotelís lore comes from the story of three workers who were killed during the construction, ghosts of whom were believed to be seen during the now defunct river ride passage which encircled the structure. While staying in a room beginning with the numbers 1416, trips down in the elevator frequently stopped at the 13th floor (not once with a single person present) and my last two nights saw my watch mysteriously be two hours behind each morning at 8 AM. Friends of mine were only too eager to share their experiences with hotel phenomenon and there are easily enough to fill an entire Barnes-&-Noble with even the most skeptical of phantom believers. Stephen King already has such wings dedicated to such horror though and while 1408, part of his numerous short story collection, is no Shining, itís a solid and welcome entry to the kind of begotten supernatural tales all to sparse in contemporary cinema.

Mike Enslin (John Cusack) writes non-fiction books about supposedly haunted places. He doesnít so much debunk them as report on their history, going so far to spend an evening around the location to see if thereís anything to the local accounts. After houses, castles and graveyards, Enslin is turning his attention to hotels. His P.O. box flooded with brochures, he is amused by the postcard inviting him to New Yorkís Dolphin Hotel but warning him not to stay in room 1408. Do the math. Further research into the roomís past reveals a number of suicides and the hotel wonít even book him. The hotelís manager, Mr. Olin (Samuel L. Jackson), does his best to talk Enslin out of it, going so far to offer him subtle bribes and a complete history for his book (including more deaths than originally reported) if he just stays out of that room. ďNo one has lasted more than an hour,Ē he says thus establishing maybe the best spook story setup since Alejandro AmenŠbarís The Others in 2001.

With trusty tape recorder in hand, Enslin explores the rather bland room. The scariest sight is the price of Beer Nuts. But whatís a good haunting without sounds? And few decibels are more frightening than the dulcet tones of The Carpenters foreboding ďWeíve Only Just Begun.Ē The next 40 minutes is Cusack in a one-man show of enveloping fear as the room begins to play its hand against a man with more demons than he cares to admit.

Such a fantastic setup is almost doomed to find disappointment in whatís to come and 1408 suffers in its lack of revelations. Thereís nothing wrong in keeping the origin and motives of the roomís evil to itself, but the screenplay has trouble committing to the deeper psychological underpinnings of the Enslin character. Slowly revealed to have traumatic family relations, weíre still never sold on the possibility that everything is happening in his head even with an early scene so out-of-place itís destined to make a reappearance just as things as getting interesting. With all the hopped-up drama placed on Enslinís relationship with his own father are, a major scene encapsulating it falls flat and the subject is dropped. Itís also curious for all the complications involved in keeping the room tidy once a month, it seems as if those sheets really havenít been changed since the first of the many deaths.

Ruining precisely how things go bump would be spoiling most of the fun of 1408. The usual slamming shut and sudden disquieting aside, 1408 is more creepy than outright scary and much of its success is due to John Cusackís performance. Praise is long overdue on Cusack as one of our best everyman actors who can convey just enough cynicism and yet still allow an audience to root for him. This is never more evident in the pre-room scenes, particularly those with Jackson, sparring wits with another master of matter-of-fact delivery, but Cusack also sails through the filmís more questionable turns with a command of the situation. For all the additions made to Stephen Kingís short story, itís a shame the screenwriters missed the obvious allegorical connotations to the final decision Enslin is presented with. A stronger metaphor for life in the face of death there could not have been, but Iím satisfied enough with 1408 being a stronger horror film in the face of garbage like Hostel Part II.

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