Film review by: Witney Seibold


            I love spook movies. Ghost stories have always fascinated me, even when I was an impressionable child, and they would leave me with nightmares. The sense of implacable dread that hangs in every haunted house is exhilarating.

            But, for me anyway, I prefer that the dread remain implacable. I’ve always been let down by most ghost movies as they will often feature some kind of climax or solution that explains away the ghosts; there will be a central single apparition or beastie or even prankster, who is the one thing behind the horror we’ve seen. Given the amount of spooky setup we’ve experience throughout the rest of the film or story, the solution can only ever be a letdown. While experiencing all the mysterious dread, I don’t want the ghost to be exorcized or the story to be completed (perhaps this is why I’m drawn to a film like “Eraserhead.”


            So the most recent Stephen King-adapted film, “1408,” directed by Swedish director Mikael Håfström (“Derailed”), left me satisfied. There wasn’t any hackneyed explanation as to why an upscale hotel room was haunted. We merely had to accept that out hero was seeing what he was seeing, and then leave the rest open.


            Mike Enslin (John Cusack) is a writer who long ago left behind his personal novels to write travel guides to haunted houses and hotels (and, yes, it’s another King story about an author). He is depressed and despondent, and actually doesn’t believe in ghosts, having never actually seen or recorded one. By extension, we later learn, that he has no faith in people or God either. He receives a mysterious postcard one day directing him to the Dolphin Hotel in New York, specifically to room 1408. He is warned away from staying in the room by the hotel’s manager (a cannily cast Samuel L. Jackson), who describes a macabre litany of the 56 people who have died in the room, all under creepy or mysterious circumstances. Mike decides to stay anyway.


            What follows is a series of increasingly creepy and implausible haunting experiences which could be genuine paranormal activity, could be drug-induced hallucination, and could be Mike simply, and finally, losing his mind. We now learn that he lost a young daughter a few years back, and walked out on his wife, so the “haunting” could be connected to his daughter’s ghost, or could be his guilt and soul finally coming into him.


            The film’s final moments lay all questions to rest, although I would never reveal.


            The setup of “1408” is atmospheric and wonderful. Jackson’s hotel manager makes us afraid and anxious before we even see the titular possibly-haunted room, and Mike’s insistence on staying in said room – a room in which no one has stayed alive for over an hour – makes the foreboding all the more intense. However, there comes a point in “1408” at which, since reality becomes increasingly shaky and the rules keep changing, that all the weirdness and spookshowmanship just begins to pile up rather than contribute to anything; large portions are intense and effective, but are gratuitous.

             Luckily, the ending, which doesn’t explain away everything we’ve seen with some cheap story or boring ghost-vs.-man fight scene, redeems much of the film, and the ride we’ve been on, although a bit haphazard at times, was still fun. “1408” is a good, decent little chiller.

Published in: on July 3, 2007 at 8:27 am  Leave a Comment  

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