Stephen King has always been less about ghosts and monsters, and more about the ghosts and monsters in man. “The Shining” and “It” were so much less about the supernatural, as they were the darkness that is already there in humanity that helps breed evil and allow it to thrive. The stay at the Stanley hotel, the experience that inspired “The Shining” also helped King garner a keen insight in to the human condition. “1408” is something of an extension of “The Shining” where a man is already doing battle on the inside and comes face to face with a presence that is only a mere extension of himself. That’s scarier than anything that anyone can conjure up.
John Cusack is an unlikely actor to be cast in a role that requires our protagonist to be something of a flawed self obsessed individual, but he handles his role beautifully. His performance is so measured and subtle that he easily carries a movie that is debatably a single setting and single character horror film. Cusack plays Mike Enslin an author who has garnered worldwide acclaim for his controversial books that have spent a long time debunking a lot of famous “haunted” attractions and tourist destinations. Despite the warnings from just about everyone, Mike decides to take on the ultimate debunking challenge by staying at the Dolphin Hotel. Smack dab in the middle of the city, its room 1408 is notorious for being the center of very gruesome, violent, and unusual events.
Despite the hotel manager urging him to simply walk away and go elsewhere, Mike insists on taking on the room and experiencing it. Director Mikael Håfström isn’t devoted to throwing jump scares and shocks at the audience so much as he builds on the experience. Much of what occurs in room 1408 is restrained for moments on end, and before long Mike’s experience goes from mundane to absolutely horrifying. What’s more is that the room is successfully a character and villain all on its own. First it derives pleasure in making Mike conjure up questions of his own sanity, and then strengthens his resolve by putting him through a rather turbulent trip that allows the room to become its own world, and even its own plain of reality.
Director Håfström has a good time frightening the audience, but also is never hesitant to inject a strong sense of strange and surrealism. The latter injects some memorable moments in the unfolding of events, including a walk on a ledge, and a moment with a painting of a boat. “1408” is not just creepy and unnerving, but it’s complex and entertains as a sharp and well paced horror film with heavy overtones of grief, anguish, and horrors of the real world that we sometimes unfortunately can never conquer.