Tuesday, July 31, 2007


The verdict: Claustrophobic, old-school horror that borrows from other, superior Stephen King adaptations (and there have been a few!). Cusack's great performance can't quite lift this above mediocrity.

The rating: 5/10

Horror movies generally have rules by which the principal characters should abide in order to avoid getting hacked up, bitten by a vampire, or eaten by zombies. The 'Scream' movie did a good job of exposing some of the self-aware, ironic teen horror flick rules, but fans will have already been aware of the staples of old-school horror. You know, the things you shout at the screen just before the main characters get bumped off.

First, if you hear a scary noise, don't investigate, especially if the noise is coming from a dark place, like a basement or a bathroom. Investigating the noise is the most dangerous thing you can do. Next, if a scary old man tells you to stay away from something, you should stay away from it. Period. Ignoring the advice of the old-timer will likely result in your bloody demise. Finally, stay away from bathroom cabinets with mirrors on the front. Closing these will almost invariably reveal a monster standing behind you. In fact, refer to rule 1, and just steer clear of night-time visits to the bathroom altogether if possible. (Er, not sure if this is great advice.. - Ed)

1408, starring the always likeable John Cusack, eschews the teen slasher ('Scream'), torture porn ('Saw'), and b-movie ('Slither') varieties of horror movie made so popular of late, and instead opts for a more straight-forward format. This is a Stephen King adaptation, and it is derivative of a storyline from one of PCMR's all-time favourite books and movies: 'The Shining'. In the Overlook Hotel, where Jack Torrance went mad and tried to kill his family, there was a room where entry was forbidden. Room 89 I believe it was. Of course, being a kid, Jack's son Danny decides to go into the room and naturally discovers that there are really scary monsters inside. (Duh! That's why you're not supposed to go in there!)

1408 takes that chapter from the Shining and fleshes it out into a story all of its own. John Cusack plays Mike Enslin, a jaded writer who reviews hotels that claim to be haunted. Enslin is disappointed that to date he has not seen any genuine evidence of the afterlife. On his birthday however, he receives an postcard advising him not to enter room 1408 in the Dolphin Hotel, New York. Intrigued, he ignores the advice of the anonymous correspondent, and reserves a night in the room.

Upon checking in at the Dolphin, Enslin is greeted by the hotel manager, played by Samuel L. Jackson. The manager tries to convince Enslin not to stay in the room, and makes quite a case for the room being dangerous, in an uncharacteristically understated performance from Jackson. No-one has ever lasted more than an hour in the room, apparently..

However, this is a horror movie after all, so Cusack good-naturedly ignores the advice, desperate for some evidence of genuinely spooky goings on. And it's not long before scary things start happening, with the audience collectively muttering to themselves "no feckin' way I'd be staying there after what Samuel Jackson just said."

The thing is, Cusack gives a very effective performance in the lead role as the cynic who at first doesn't believe in the existence of ghosts, and who gradually comes to realise the shocking truth that he is trapped in a haunted hotel room, with the two most likely outcomes of the situation being madness or death.

This movie has Stephen King's trademarks all over it. Wholesome popular music is juxtaposed with tense situations to creepy effect - this time it's The Carpenter's 'We've Only Just Begun'. Normal objects, such as a clock radio, or a painting on a wall, are invested with ominous, foreboding personality. The central character is a troubled writer with a difficult family history...

Director Mikael Hafstrom has created a movie of two halves with this one. The first hour is very well realised, with the characters well established, and the purposeful action set in motion at a lovely pace. Cusack and Jackson have a great few scenes together, and Cusack is as watchable as usual, making his first scenes alone in the room as watchable as what came before.

The thing is, the premise is very ambitous. Colin Farrell couldn't make a phone booth all that entertaining, so John Cusack has a tough job here, with only the four walls of a hotel room to work with for around an hour of the movie. His charisma is enough to carry the first half of the film, but when the scary stuff eventually started happening on-screen, my interested waned a little, and the last half an hour in particular really trailed off.

There are a few scares, and one or two genuinely creepy moments, but the denouement didn't quite live up to the anticipation generated in the first hour. It's admirable for its approach, in that it tries to create atmosphere and tension as opposed to horrify with gore, but the premise, while devilish in its simplicity, is a little too light to justify a full-length movie. And when Hafstrom reveals his hand in the last act, it's all a little heavy handed for my liking. Perhaps an episode of 'The Twilight Zone would have served this story a little better.

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