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I guess Swedish director Mikael Hafstrom can now be forgiven for his last film, the terrible Clive Owen vehicle Derailed. It's not that his second English language feature, 1408, is so spectacular. An amazing film it isn't, but it is a competent entry into the horror genre, specifically the haunted house niche. Giving credit where credit is due, however, it should be noted that the film's success in that department is owed not to Hafstrom but primarily to John Cusack's performance as Mike Enslin, a budget-shelf book writer whose titles range from Ten Haunted Hotels to Ten Haunted Lighthouses.
When Cusack's Enslin receives a mysterious postcard from the Dolphin Hotel in New York City warning him not to enter room 1408, he of course can't help but jump at the chance to stay in the mysterious room, against the wishes of Samuel Jackson, who plays the hotel's manager like a modern-day Vincent Price. For Enslin, the visit is just another job; another supposedly haunted hotel room that he suspects is a bid to boost business for the Dolphin. But as it turns out, Enslin's penchant for imitating the SciFi Channel's Ghosthunters is also his way of dealing with the loss of his young daughter to cancer, a not unforeseeable twist in the plot.
As director Hafstrom says in a bonus featurette that accompanies the double-DVD release of the film, available tomorrow, "the room is the main character of the film." True enough, but it's Cusack's portrayal of a man teetering on the brink of insanity that really saves the slightly messy affair, bringing a smarmy humor to his role, as is his general working method. But, as mentioned earlier, when the story calls for him to seriously question his own sanity, he does so convincingly, even while up against the cheesy camera movements and bang-a-buck effects that Hafstrom chooses to employ. As far as the ghostly sequences in the room are concerned, 1408 thankfully relies more on creepy atmospherics such as a clock radio turning itself on, faucets spewing hot water, and phones ringing with no one on the other end of the line than it does on ghoulies and gore. Things do get pretty hectic as the movie chugs along, with the room turning into both a frozen wasteland and an underwater maelstrom courtesy of both CGI and some impressive physical effects.
1408, adapted for the screen by Matt Greenberg, Scott Alexander, and Larry Karaszewski, is based on a Stephen King story, something very evident in the use of a writer as the main character and in the novel-like dialogue. But, before you get your hopes up, let me assure you that The Shining this is not. 1408 is, like most cinematic King adaptations, a well-meaning effort (rewarded by being the highest-grossing debut to date for a Stephen King-based film) dressed up for retail release with a flood of bonus features, in this case production featurettes about the director, Cusack, the production design, and the special effects. Deleted scenes are also included as an extra, as is a feature-length audio commentary by Hafstrom and two of the writers. In addition to the theatrical cut of the film, a director's cut is included with an alternate ending, which I won't spoil for you here. Suffice it to say that it seems that Bob and Harvey Weinstein felt that a commercial audience might require something a bit more uplifting than what Hafstrom originally had in mind. SEE ALSO: www.1408-themovie.com
Jonah Flicker writes, lives, drinks, eats, and consumes music in New York, via Los Angeles. He once received a fortune in a fortune cookie that stated the following: "Soon, a visitor shall delight you." He's still waiting.
See other articles by Jonah Flicker.
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