1408 Review

Posted: October 31, 2013 by moviebuff801 in moviebuff801's Movie Reviews, Time Capsule Reviews

Release Date: June 22nd, 2007

Running Time: 1 hour and 44 minutes

Written by: Matt Greenberg and Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski

Directed by: Mikael Hafstrom

Starring: John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Mary McCormack

I’m not sure whether it came from the source material by Stephen King, or if it was the approach taken by the screenwriters, but 1408 is surprisingly smart and emotional in how it handles its premise.  I’ll confess that the horror genre is not one I’m as well-versed or experienced in as most other film buffs; it takes a special kind of story or approach to a story to really get my attention, and I remember back in the summer of 2007 pretty much stumbling into this movie out of purely last-minute interest the weekend it opened.  I can’t exactly pinpoint all these years later what it was that inspired said interest, but I remember walking out of the theater very satisfied, a feeling that only a handful of straight-up horror films have ever left me with.

1408 follows writer Mike Enslin (John Cusack), whose recent books have detailed the stories of numerous purportedly haunted locations around the country.  Mike has been searching for signs of the afterlife because it’s the only way he believes he can fully cope with the loss of his young daughter Katie (Jasmine Jessica Anthony), an event which has distanced himself from his estranged wife Lily (Mary McCormack).  But Mike’s hope depletes when every haunted house, mansion or lighthouse of course turns out to have no merit.  So it’s with years’ worth of cynicism how he approaches the infamous Room 1408 at The Dolphin Hotel in New York.  The hotel’s manager, Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson), immediately launches into the “docket of carnage” upon Mike’s arrival, vehemently attempting to discourage him from staying there, but Mike of course sees this just as Olin trying to further the myth and is unconvinced.  Mike soon after checks into 1408 with the intention of debunking it as he has all of the other places he’s visited, but unlike those, there’s much more to this particular myth than just superstition; something Mike learns the hard way.

The idea so effectively on display here is that the most frightening demons come from within ourselves, and it’s an idea chillingly envisioned by director Mikael Hafstrom and co-screenwriters Matt Greenberg, Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski.  1408 represents my favorite brand of horror: the psychological kind. The ways in which the room strikes against Mike are scary in a much subtler, twisted way than it would be if this was a conventional horror film, and I really appreciate that.  This is a horror movie much more interested in scaring us with thrills and chills rather than gore and sudden loud noises, and it winds up being all the better for it. I like this movie more and more with every re-watch, so much so that by now, I can easily say that I love 1408 and consider it to be a bit of an underrated gem.

At the center of it all is a riveting one-man show by John Cusack, who’s always been one of my favorite actors, and here he really gets an opportunity to showcase his acting ability. Once he closes the door of 1408, Cusack is really the one main actor of the film and he’s such a strong actor, that he carries the movie with minimal effort.  The way Cusack handles his character’s descent into the abyss of insanity is fascinating to watch, as well as being incredibly sympathetic as the film goes on.  John Cusack’s work is very much, and very convincingly, a man pushed over the edge about fifty different times and there’s not one moment in this film where I either don’t buy his performance or am not entranced by it.  In retrospect, Mike may start to transition into his increasingly fragile state of mind too quickly, but this doesn’t feel like that much of an issue since Cusack is so consistently strong throughout.  Probably one of the best parts of Cusack’s performance, though, is the little things he weaves in every now and then.  Such as him dryly remarking “Oh, it’s good to be back!” after one of his many failed escape attempts.  Plus, his constant muttering into his tape recorder during all the chaos is another nice touch, and accentuates the performance because it really does seem like a way someone losing their mind would try to retain their grip on reality.  This is a great piece of acting by John Cusack.

The true terror of 1408 is that the room taps into the darkest corners of each of its occupants’ minds, and uses the fears and guilt of those people against them, and this is where the film draws a surprising amount of emotional resonance, and this is where the film’s screenplay truly excels.  One of the film’s central themes is really coping with the loss of a child, and I think the thing that I love most about 1408 is that it uses this aspect of Mike’s past to terrorize him.  It makes for some really raw and powerful moments for Mike, all of which Cusack pulls off brilliantly, and emphasizes that this is more than just your standard horror film.  It’s ultimately as tragic as it is creepy, and that’s a combination so unexpected, and yet so involving.  1408 does such a good job of establishing its characters and their dynamics that when those dynamics are used to sinister purpose, it lends the film an undercurrent of sadness that adds to the experience.  The scene before the climax where the room unleashes its final torture on Mike is just heartbreaking because of that.  Another thing I appreciate in terms of the script is that 1408 is just an “evil fucking room,” as Olin puts it.  There’s no long-winded or half-baked explanation to try and explain away its origins, it just is.  Back in 2007, I never thought that a Stephen King adaptation would be so emotionally involving for me, but then along came 1408.  I also never thought I’d associate the song “We’ve Only Just Begun” with anything creepy.

Director Mikael Hafstrom uses some nice visual tricks and treats, no pun intended, once 1408 starts messing with Mike and he also creates a very palpable feeling of paranoia and unease.  Just like the script, Hafstrom dives into the insanity headfirst, but still builds suspense gradually through subtle techniques.  As the film goes on, Hafstrom’s style effectively reflects a maddening state of mind.

I don’t say this about a lot of horror movies, but I love 1408.  It features a great performance by John Cusack, a strong script, expert direction and most of all, something really human at its core.  So by all means, check in.


  1. le0pard13 says:

    I’ve always enjoyed John Cusack’s work. He’s also very good in ‘The Frozen Ground’. Fine write-up, Michael.

  2. CMrok93 says:

    Good review Michael. While Cusack did a great job, the movie itself seemed to be a little nuts for its own good. However, I will admit it is a fun watch, especially on a night like this.

  3. robbinsrealm says:

    Well written review!

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