1408 (2007) movie poster

(2007) dir. Mikael Håfström
viewed: 11/10/07

Stephen King, whose story this film was based on, has one of the most extensively spotty track records with film adaptations of his work.  Perhaps, beyond the films’ spottiness is King’s own spottiness in the quality of his work.  So, expectations for this PG-13 film, for me, were not high, mitigated as they were by mixed to poor reviews and not-so-hot word-of-mouth.  Still, I’d been keeping it on the radar, and of course, I rented it.

John Cusack is still a likeable screen figure, even if the amount of quality films that he’s made could also be given a similar rating of “spotty”.  Anyways, he does his thing here, and keeps the film on track as much as anyone could.  It’s interesting, the thing about Samuel L. Jackson, who shows up in a brief but classically typical sharply intense role as the manager of the hotel with the haunted room, but he always manages to get the best line in a movie.  The best line in a movie, in the hands of Jackson, almost invariably involves the word “fuck” or “fucking”.  Here, when asked about the nature of the haunted hotel room, he deadpans, “It’s just a fucking evil room.”

There could have been something here in this film about the cynical haunting investigator/writer who encounters a truly paranormal experience that traps him in a hotel room for a night.  There are little moments, little effects (like the animated and changing paintings in the room),  and humor and ironies (The Carpenters singing “It’s Only Just Begun” eternally on the possessed clock radio).

But the narrative ends up being an exploration of what it is to be scared.  Which is what Cusack’s character looks for but never expects to find.  It’s a metaphor perhaps of the tapped-out scribe who has spun every type of horror story to the point that nothing is really new.  What does it mean to be really scared?

In this case, it’s a whole lot of things.  It’s not just ghosts, it’s a psychological mind-fuck, an acid trip, tapping into everything in one’s psyche on a constant riffing collage: images of the writer’s dead daughter, his father, the multitude of suicides, the room that becomes a cell in a completely dream-like situation.  The room boils, it freezes, it floods, it burns.  It throws everything it can possibly think of at the writer, at the audience.  And very quickly, it’s not scary, but simply innundating.  It’s everything and the kitchen (er,…bathroom) sink.

What really is scary?  I don’t know.  Not this film.  Not this film’s concepts of scary.

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