Someone once said that horror movies are always a bit cheesy. True or not, “1408” (2007), directed by Mikael Håfström, is about a book author and skeptic, Mike Enslin (John Cusack), who writes about paranormal occurrences. Sounds cheesy enough so far. The film is based on Stephen King’s short story of the same name and this is where things start getting interesting.
For his latest book, Mike Enslin wants to check out room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel in New York. The manager of the hotel, Mr. Olin (Jackson), tries to convince Enslin not to stay in that room and warns him in fact not to enter. No one ever lasted more than one hour in that room. This only prompts Enslin to check into 1408 no matter what.
Typical for Stephen King’s structures we have all the prerequisites for giving the audience a good scare and Håfström knows how to transport that on screen. It is a well crafted horror movie that is pretty straight forward without many challenges ahead. The room is evil, we have been told so many times. Everything that happens in room 1408, whether Enslin believes it to be real or not, is evil and the outcome will be detrimental to the protagonist’s health, so much is obvious from the get go.
The weak point in many of Stephen King’s books and stories is the ending and the character development just as with “1408”. Enslin is not a character we come to care for nor associate with. We remain mere spectators and since the “paranormal” is depicted in a rather obvious way, we never really get involved at any point and remain detached, unable to immerse ourselves in the horrors of room 1408.
Still, “1408” is a very well crafted, atmospheric horror movie, well directed and well acted. Although I do not see John Cusack as the typical horror movie actor and I think his talents lie elsewhere (e.g. “High Fidelity“), which is not to say that he was bad in “1408”, however his talents seem wasted here.
Without spoiling the ending, I would like to invest a moment’s time in looking at the outcome of this generic ghost story, reveal the message if you will. Is there one? Other than the obvious consequences there may be some very remote allusions to Jean Baudrillard’s “Simulacra and Simulation” in the end in as much as the “black box” Mr. Olin brings, holds the secret or the truth behind what is “real” (this refers to the Director’s Cut version and is not part of the theatrical cut). This technique is used quite frequently to provoke questions that remain unanswered. Admittedly, this is a bit of a stretch, still it is the kind of ending you find very often in King’s stories and in horror movies in general.
Director Mikael Håfström has stated that the ending for 1408 was reshot because test audiences felt that the original ending was too much of a “downer”. It includes a much more versatile ending leaving space for possible continuations on the film.
Did Enslin beat the room? Did he get out? Who knows… Of course, in order to appease the Hollywood audience the ending was simplified for theatrical release, which again shows how easy it is to ruin a perfectly fine ending for the sake of money and for the sake of answering questions otherwise left to the audience to figure out.
“1408” offers some thrills but little surprises for those firm in the horror genre and it is one of the better adaptations of Stephen King’s stories in a long time. Those among you who are rattled easily, be warned, this is not for the faint-of-heart. Go see the Director’s Cut.
Director’s Cut: 6/10
Theatrical Cut: 5/10
MPAA: Rated PG-13 for thematic material including disturbing sequences of violence and terror, frightening images and language.