Sunday, July 8, 2007

1408 (2007)

Fear - 3/5
Gore - 1/5
Creepiness - 3/5
Entertainment - 4/5
Nightmares - 2/5

John Cusack plays a semi-washed up author who specializes in traveling to supposed haunted locations to write about his experiences. Cusack’s character Mike Enslin doesn’t believe in the paranormal, and thus has no fear as he stays in supposed haunted hotel rooms all over the world. That all changes once he receives an anonymous postcard from the Dolphin Hotel in New York, warning him to not stay in room 1408.

Based on a story by Stephen King, 1408 does an absolutely fantastic job of setting up the state of Mike’s career, hinting to a personal past tragedy with a woman in New York, and showing his general shambles of a life. Cusack plays the role of skeptic ghost hunter with effortless grace in what may be one of his better roles. In fact the whole idea of a paranormal investigator who is disillusioned with his craft is completely relevant in our cable tv world of Ghost Hunters and Most Haunted. Similarly, Samuel L Jackson gives a top-notch performance as the Hotel manager. For the first half of 1408, Cusack, Jackson and the beautifully unrolling setup of the story are so well done that I sat in the theater thinking that this might be the best Ghost Story since The Shining. Even after the terror begins to unfold once Cusack is inside of 1408, things hold together fairly well until about the last half an hour of the film where it seems that, as is all too often the case, the film stops taking itself seriously. This is an odd, and unfortunate turn of events since up until this point, I would say 1408 takes itself more seriously than most modern American horror films.

As things begin to get out of control early on in Cusack’s stay in 1408, even the most mundane situations like the front door knob falling apart, preventing his escape, are believable within the context of the story, and are effective even if they are recycled gags from a genre where almost everything has been done. However, as time draws on, the audience around me grew bored and restless with the constant left hooks that 1408 tries to throw, assumingly to try and keep people interested. At this point it feels like the film-makers had a time quota to fill, where they should have cut fifteen minutes from the film and left the audience wondering, wanting more. Instead you get desensitized to the cheap scares that you know will inevitably come, and confused by nonsense like a fax machine spitting out Enslin’s dead daughter’s shirt (however this was brilliant heckling setup as I blurted out “Dear Dad, I’m faxing you from Spring Break”). Still, even if the film doesn’t know when to quit, some of the over-the-top stuff worked in its favor.

As Enslin is thrown about the room and the paintings on the wall all take on a Haunted Mansion theme of changing before his eyes right before the room fills with cold sea water from the painting of a ship, threatening to drown Enslin, it’s odd enough to make you suspend your disbelief for a moment and give an honest nod of “what the fuck is going on” to 1408. The fact that the film ended as a disappointment was only upsetting since the set up was so well done that 1408 let itself down more than it let me down.

- the fucking beard

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