Starring: John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Mary McCormack,
Tony Shalhoub. Rated PG-13.
During his recent stint as a guest columnist
Entertainment Weekly, Stephen King has made no secret of his fondness for Lost, the surreal ABC drama that pits the survivors of a
plane crash against supernatural forces as thrilling as they are confounding.
This should come as little surprise to fans of King’s stories – he has always
been fascinated by the mysteries of life, the bizarre phenomena that can’t be
explained away with logic or reason, and he has spent his career translating
that natural wonder into tales of the merrily macabre.
Mike Enslin (John Cusack) doesn’t share that
King, he is a writer who enjoys a good scare, but the similarities end there. A
self-confessed nihilist, Mike has lost his passion for pretty much everything,
save for his job. He seeks out haunted houses and the ghosts who are said to
inhabit them, documenting his experiences in a series of hokey travel guides.
Even then, he remains the consummate cynic – he longs for proof of the
paranormal, but he can’t bring himself to believe.
Like many of the disbelievers who wander
King’s novels, he’s in for a harsh awakening. Lurking behind the door of room
1408 at New York’s Dolphin Hotel is no less than hell itself, and Mike is only
too eager for a guided tour. Ignoring the cryptic warnings of the Dolphin’s
seemingly benign manager (Samuel L. Jackson), who informs us that 1408 has
already claimed 56 victims, he settles in for another quiet evening of
mythbusting. Big mistake.
1408, like William Friedkin’s
relies less on
blood and butchery than sheer paranoia. Has Mike lost his mind? Maybe. He is
trapped in a tense, claustrophobic nightmare that threatens to swallow him
whole, if only he’d stop fighting it. He is not without options – as the
relentlessly cheery hotel operator explains, he can always opt for “express
checkout” – but Mike doesn’t want to be victim number 57.
Cusack spends much
of the film alone in the room, playing
against walls, windowsills and air vents. Even the alarm clock seems to have it
in for him. Entrusted to a lesser actor, 1408
might have come across as melodramatic or absurd, but Cusack keeps it
grounded with a performance that is funny at times, heartbreaking at others.
fault of his own, King’s stories have often
lost their luster on the big screen, but 1408
does not. From the start, it builds to a point of unbearable tension
and then rewards us with a payoff that is cleverly executed and genuinely
terrifying. There are slower moments that allow us to breathe, but they merely
serve as preludes to the next scare. By the time Mike reaches wit’s end,
trapped in a prison that may exist only in his mind, he is tired, frightened
and emotionally spent – and we’re right there with him.