1408 - Set Your Snooze Alarm

I'm a sucker for horror films.  Show me a great trailer and I'm forking out ten bucks before you can count to two.  I love to be on the edge of my seat….white-knuckling for 90 minutes.  I want to be physically and mentally sacked by the time I leave the theater.  Scare me baby.  And if you are adapting a Stephen King novel – my hair had better turn white.

Knock Knock - Who's not there?

1408 looked like it was packing the goods.  John Cusack – one of our very best and underrated actors – is introduced to us as Mike Enslin, a sort of travel writer of haunted, cursed, and terrifying locations.  Unfortunately for him, most of what he researches is usually a lot of hoo-ha from sideshow simpletons who lack imagination and a full set of teeth.  People trying to make a fast buck by quilting together spooky tales to conjure up business – not demons.  As a result Enslin has become cynical, indifferent, and restless to the idea of ever really finding that dark, sinister evil he's been searching for. He spends his time debunking paranormal occurrences and loathing it.  He's on a bummer.

John Cusack - great actor in a bad room

Everything changes when our writer gets an anonymous postcard from The Dolphin hotel in New York City with only a room number written on it:  1408.  His curiosity peaked when he tries to rent that exact room and gets totally blown off.  Even when he actually goes to the hotel the staff trys everything to avoid him renting the room #1408.  How come?

The Dolphin's manager, played by Samuel L. Jackson (using the same small margin of expression he uses in all his roles), confides in low tones that the room has been destination death for scores of people. Even those who mistakenly enter the room for only ten minutes wind up wacky and pluck their eyes out.  Of course Enslin doesn't believe a word of it and insists on staying the night in that room.  

Samuel Jackson doesn't want to pony up the key to 1408 and I'd say if the room is basically a mortuary he has a good argument.

He's high.  Even morbid curiosity couldn't drag me into a room where scores of people have flipped out, cut themselves to ribbons, or throw themselves out a window.  I can see that at my gym from 5 to 7 every day.

So there is the premise.  It's not a new one.  Whether you're in a room, a crazy ass car, haunted mansion….it's all kind of the same thing.  You need to get out – usually an option that for some strange reason never occurs to anyone in said situations.  So you know Enslin is in for it.   1408 has a fine actor in Cusack, and for the first half of the film that's enough.  But he alone is not enough to carry the entire film.  

Sub zero temperature, blood coming out of the walls...how many signs does one actually need before checking out of the room?

What starts out as a fine, edge of your seat venture instead, like so many other films today, trades intelligence for special effects.  Subtle things that happen in the room the first half of the film are far more terrifying that the grandiose fire and brimstone of the second half.  If I'm shifting my in my seat, that means I'm noticing my flattening butt.  If I notice that, I'm losing interest in the film.  That's what happens in 1408.

This is what Cusack and I had in common about an hour into the movie.

I simply fell out of it.  The effects got tiresome. The sub plot about a broken marriage and dead kid…snooze alarm please.  The resolution was not a thrilling climax.  Even the little twists – vaguely – and I mean REALLLY vaguely - reminiscent of ‘Sixth Sense' were ho-hum.

Even a dead anorexic child can't bring life to 1408

In the end, 1408 is what could have been a good movie that instead trades talent and good writing for the cheap fix of inappropriate special effects.  Hey, I saw The Exorcist and that movie did a lot more in a much smaller room than all that was done in 1408.  And it was hell of a lot scarier.

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