Samuel L. Jackson, playing hotel manager Gerald Olin, leans conspiratorially inwards, dangles a key in the air and whispers, “It’s an evil f***ing room”. This is the film’s defining moment and a perfect summary of the horror contained within room 1408 of New York's Dolphin hotel.
Mike Enslin (John Cusack) is an honest and heartfelt writer who becomes bitter and twisted after the death of a loved one. His marriage breaks down and he finds himself travelling from hotel to hotel experiencing, and then systematically ridiculing, the supposed hauntings in each. He publishes the best myths rating them on mystery and intrigue alone never believing that any of them could be true. That is until he stumbles across the closed door of room 1408.
As we watch the lock mechanism twist painfully slowly from closed to open the viewer is thrust into a claustrophobic nightmare of visual and mental plot devices. The first few minutes spent inside the room are the most terrifying, when the possibilities are endless and the tricks are both canny and surprising. Enslin is quick to bat these first few away admiring the manager’s persistence to perpetuate the room’s myth with hidden props. When it becomes apparent that things have gone beyond reason the only options left are to find an unobstructed exit or descend into madness.
Cusack’s charisma and quirky acting style enables the evil of room 1408 to take form as it attacks his character’s tortured mind with remorseless energy, borrowing heavily from similar scenes in The Shining and Sixth Sense. The terror on his face throughout is gut-wrenching and holds everything together. Sadly, with the script being adapted from Stephen King’s all-too-short story, the film suffers from being rather drawn out with several overcomplicated threads ruining the tempo and patiently-constructed claustrophobia. These have probably been inserted either for variety, or, as the first few audience tests suggest, because of film studio interference. There is a sad air of inevitability about many of the sequences and second guessing the plot isn’t difficult. Thankfully the film only runs to 94 minutes so it doesn’t drag too much and the open-ended finale is clever, if a little confusing.
There is much to admire here despite the film’s flaws with fine acting performances, some clever computer imagery, and a simple, yet genius, plot. It sits nicely alongside many of Stephen King’s adaptations without troubling the best of them, yet certainly surpassing the more recent efforts.
Commissioned by Local Secrets online magazine...