Retro Review: 1408 (2007){0}

A movie based on a Stephen King novel about a haunted hotel? And the main character is a frustrated writer? And it’s all about latent horrors, undead specters, and the gradual unraveling of a man’s psyche? Heck, I’ve seen this movie before. It was called “The Shining,” and even though it deviates quite a lot from King’s original story, it’s still a pretty excellent…

Oh you said hotel ROOM, not just hotel. Gotcha. So there is something a bit different about “1408,” in that it focuses on one doomed room and not the entire edifice — and also in that it’s one of the best King adaptations in about ten years. Thanks to a gloomy tone, a bunch of slyly effective visual jolts, and a truly fantastic performance from John Cusack — 1408 is saved from the bargain bin in which you’ll find “Graveyard Shift,” “The Mangler,” and “Dreamcatcher.” Fans of the author will be pleased to know that Mikael Hafstrom’s adaptation is faithful but not slavish — and those who just want a good jolt will probably have a pretty good time, too.

Cusack stars as a cynical horror writer who pens tomes about haunted hotels — although he doesn’t believe in the supernatural. He’s a world-weary skeptic who’s been through his fair share of misery. Cusack portrays the guy as selfish and pushy, but never actually unlikable. Which is important because Cusack’s character is about to be put through a truly nightmarish evening. Following a postcard to New York City’s Dolphin Hotel, Mike Enslin checks into the infamous room 1408 — the site of more deaths than anyone truly knows.

The only other character of note is the hotel manager, played (very well) by the always-colorful Samuel L. Jackson. In one wonderfully long scene, Jackson and Cusack verbally spar with each other over the “availability” of room 1408. This scene alone might be worth the price of admission. But 1408 is Cusack’s vehicle all the way, and the actor absolutely nails this movie to the ground. With a different actor in the lead, this dark-hearted “Twilight Zone” piece could have become maudlin or obvious. As the Enslin character slips deeper and deeper into his unfortunate night in 1408, we’re interested because of Cusack — and not because we’ve never seen a haunted house movie before.

Although 1408 does manage to stumble a few times (narratively) before hitting the finish line, the minor speed bumps do little to ruin the fun. No muss, no fuss, just a tight-fisted little chiller that’s well-made and just as lengthy as it needs to be. Essentially, this is a fairly brief, effectively intense, and appreciably fast-paced little psycho-thriller, one that features an old-school pro at the top of his game, and a flick that just might creep you out two or three times. Yes, even the true-blue horror geeks.