This movie tries hard, but fails at the last hurdle, as with many of its premise
|John Cusack as Mike Enslin|
|Mary McCormack as Lily Enslin|
|Jasmine Jessica Anthony as Katie Enslin|
|with Samuel L. Jackson as Gerald Olin|
|and Tony Shalhoub as Sam Farrell|
The “trapped in a box and forced to live out your worst nightmare” scenario is a pretty common movie trope and has been played out with varying levels of success. I first encountered it in 1984, where Winston is forced into facing his worst fear in Room 101, ensuring his conformity with Big Brother’s ideals. 1408 runs with a different, interesting premise, but in the end, you’ll be surprised at how little it actually achieves.
Mike Enslin is a reasonably successful horror writer, who sojourns around the country, staying in places that are supposedly haunted. Of course, he’s not one to believe in ghosts and most of the haunted places turn out to be duds. One day, he receives a postcard from the Dolphin Hotel in New York after a day’s surfing. The postcard advises that he should never enter room 1408 of the hotel. Taking this as a challenge, he does some research into the room, and finds it has a colourful history, mostly very bloody.
Subsequently, Enslin books into the hotel room and is grilled by the hotel’s manager, Gerald Olin, about why he wants to stay in the room. Despite all the reluctance in the world, Olin caves and gives the key to 1408 to Enslin. Enslin is warned that nobody stays for longer than an hour inside that room. This warning is laughed off as he takes possession of the key and goes upstairs. Upon entering, the room looks nondescript, just like every other room, except that the clock radio plays the song It’s Only Just Begun and it suddenly sets itself to a countdown of time to sixty minutes. Enslin is then tortured with various jump scares, apparitions and other horror movie clichés, like a wall leaking blood and creepy zombies. Ultimately, it’s insinuated that people in room 1408 die because the room cheats, and they can’t live with the pain of their greatest regrets and try to get out of living through those sad moments over and over again by offing themselves.
John Cusack’s performance as Enslin is fantastic, a self-assured man, who is hiding some very deep and dark gremlins in his life. You see and believe the conviction during his transformation from cocky skepticism to cathartic release. Samuel L. Jackson doesn’t really have a massive role in 1408, apart from trying to use his swagger and voice to dissuade Enslin from entering the room in the first place.
The problem with the movie is that 1408 cheats, by trapping the person staying within. It doesn’t allow the person to grow out of their regret, take the opportunity provided by their enlightenment by the balls and seek redemption. Why this is so is never made clear, but I suppose it leads to the ultimate destruction of 1408, ensuring it will never ensnare another broken person. Instead of making the movie about forgiveness, redemption and courage, it’s about how someone faced with a nearly hopeless situation would take the easy option.
1408 is by no means a bad movie. It’s actually got an interesting premise, a great cast and snappy script. It’s not overly frightening, because it’s not designed to be, and the scares involved are actually useful to the plot. The main issue is that the ending cheats you of a really satisfying conclusion, based on some need to set fire to stuff. Another movie let down by its resolution.
This is a movie that had so much potential. Instead, it builds up and then lets down the audience.
Should I watch this?
If you feel a need to feel depressed, just watch 1408. It’s a movie that offers its main character no real chance for redemption or resolution.