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By Matt DeReno
Mike Enslin (Cusack) is a disbeliever and then some. He is rather jaded from life after a turn of unfortunate events, which left him deeply melancholic, withdrawn; seemingly in a never-ending existential crisis. Or, it could be said, he is just like most writers, right? Okay, bad joke.
Why he is really like this, we soon discover. It is the result of the untimely death of his daughter Katie. He can’t get over that; most fathers couldn’t. Surely, he can’t be faulted for this level of cynicism given the foundation of its dark wellspring? His daughter’s death changed his views on life. However, another event is about to do that again; or, at very least, test his ability to believe in anything at all.
Enslin is an author who debunks supernatural occurrences. He makes a living staying in haunted houses, writing about them, but not really taking it seriously—at least not anymore—since his Katie’s death. He has no faith, no soul, he is empty inside. On some level, he is a vacuous ghost himself, bereft of life, haunting the world until it is his turn to pass on from it. On some deeper level, ghosts have more life than Enslin. Whereas, most ghosts can’t seem to leave their old life behind; Enslin wants to do just that. So who is haunting who’s world?
After his latest successful paint-by-the-numbers haunted house book, he receives an anonymous postcard from a most mysterious hotel: The Dolphin Hotel in the heart of urban New York City. There is a message on card, which is more like a warning: “Don’t enter 1408″. Oh, brother. You can almost hear Enslin think: another one of these gimmicks. His motivation to go, seems chiefly to pull the tablecloth out from another haunted house charade.
Towards those ends, Enslin attempts to book a reservation for room 1408 at the Dauphin. However, the hotel will not rent him the room. After being informed by Enslin’s agent, Sam Farrell (Shaloub), that through some loop hole in the Fair Housing Act, the hotel is required to rent unoccupied rooms to anyone that requests one, Enslin finally gets his wish more out of a desire to prove a point rather than to experience the supernatural.
Once at the hotel, Enslin is warned by the hotel’s manager, Gerald Olin (Jackson), who proclaims that no one has survived more than an hour in 1408. A bunch of people have killed themselves in this room over the years; most of them in grisly fashion. It doesn’t bother Enslin at all.
Olin offers Enslin an upgrade to the penthouse suite, access to documents regarding the deaths in 1408 and an $800 bottle of cognac if Enslin would only abandon his desire to stay in room 1408. Enslin accepts the documents (and the cognac – smart man) but insists on staying in the room, frustrating Olin. In the end, the manager gives him the key and warns him that it is an evil room – with an F bomb thrown in there somewhere – to good effect.
Undeterred, Enslin retires to his room, where he pulls out his recorder and waxes about the mundane decor of room 1408 (which adds up to 13 by the way). However, as he examines the room, the radio suddenly starts blaring “We’ve Only Just Begun” by The Carpenters. Is this a trick cooked up by Olin?
And here we get the Stephen King version of the Book of Job. Instead of the Almighty putting a man through the ringer, we get the demonic imagination of King piling on a world-weary man of little faith.
Enslin is startled again as the clock radio plays the same song. When he turns the clock off, the display flickers and changes to read “60:00”. Then, which is really cool, the clock starts counting down from 60 minutes. Suddenly, Enslin is unable to hear anything and it soon becomes apparent he is a prisoner in some macabre place. Is 1408 causing him hallucinations, or is it really a portal to the other side? Enslin is soon about to find out.
Enslin begins to see visions of his daughter’s time in the hospital shortly before her death. Ever the skeptic, he initially dismisses all of this as figments of a weary imagination. However, Enslin wakes up on a sandy beach, which is the place of an earlier surfing accident. This was flashbacked earlier in the film when he became unconscious. He finds Lily at his bedside in the hospital near his home in L.A.. She is telling him what happened to him.
The nightmare doesn’t end here. For instance, after the clock radio resets for another 60 minutes, the phone rings; when Enslin answers, he asks “Why don’t you just kill me?” The female voice of the operator informs him that he can relive the hour “again and again” or choose to take advantage of their “express checkout system”. A hangman’s knot appears in the bedroom. Enslin has a vision of him hanging himself; he tells the operator that he will not be checking out that way. Or, will he?
The performances of John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson in this film are spot on. They have great chemistry and are both well cast. Cusack, in particular, was a perfect choice. We all know the romantic roles Cusack had become famous for in the earlier markings of his career (Say Anything, High Fidelity) and it is these earlier films that make him perfect for 1408.
It is like we get to see the star of Say Anything after his life didn’t work out so well. He has the look of a man who once believed in romance but now believes in, well, nothing. Maybe it is just that we imbue this quality on him because of these quixotic roles we associate with Cusack? Or, it could be, Cusack is that versatile as actor, drawing what he wants out of us on demand.
Samuel L. Jackson, to say the least, was creepy, forthright and menacing as the manger of the hotel. He has those expressive eyes that can bore holes like hammer drills in a concrete wall.
This movie is nearly up there with another haunted hotel movie that comes to mind: The Shinning. Well, maybe 1408 is not quite that good, but surely it is one of the better horror movies to come along since. Perhaps that should come as no surprise: the same master of the spine-tingling yarn, Stephen King, penned both. Nonetheless, it makes me wonder-Stephen King must not like to stay in hotels.
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