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A review of 1408

click to enlarge Facing the paranormal with appropriately tousled hair: - Thats John Cusack in 1408.
  • Facing the paranormal with appropriately tousled hair: Thats John Cusack in 1408.

Cinemark 16, Tinseltown

1408, the latest Stephen King adaptation to hit the silver screen, falls neatly into the same category as King's past stories The Shining and The Secret Window, where tough-guy authors have become trapped in the confines of a place where the laws of physics don't seem to apply.

Here, horror novelist Mike Enslin (John Cusack), a debunker of paranormal myths, tackles his latest book project, Ten Nights in Haunted Hotel Rooms, with the been-there-done-that cynicism of a wizened professional knocking out yet another routine assignment. Things get exciting when Enslin reads a news clipping about a mysterious "room 1408" in New York's Dolphin Hotel, where more than 50 guests have perished.

With his curiosity properly piqued, our plucky author disregards the earnest warnings of the hotel manager, Mr. Olin (snappily played by Samuel L. Jackson), and enters the room with tape recorder in hand. The alarm clock then begins a one-hour countdown as walls move and the landscape of the room becomes a demonic presence taunting the author to lose hold on his already loosened sanity.

Separated from his wife Lily (Mary McCormack) after the tragic loss of their daughter Gracie, Enslin masks his personal crisis by immersing himself in his work. He is a man attempting to displace his own reality with other people's imaginary demons.

It's an effective gambit until the demons become real. "We don't rattle" is the mantra that Enslin repeats to himself as the room's alarm clock unexpectedly blasts a Carpenters song and the room's paintings shift their images. Suddenly, observing paranormal occurrences is not as prosaic and charming as our protagonist might have imagined. And this setup makes the scares far more potent than the audience may have originally imagined.

The triumph of 1408 rests squarely on John Cusack's perfectly pitched performance as an unshakable disbeliever repeatedly pushed to the brink of suicide by the memories of his own past. Like the Jack Nicholson character in The Shining, Cusack's Enslin suffers from a psychosis that his immediate environment exacerbates. Right up until the end of the movie, it's unsure how many of the room-morphing episodes are real and how many are cooked up in the character's plagued subconscious mind.

Cusack is such a polished performer that it's easy to forget how effective he can be at creating characters capable of emphasizing extreme emotional and physical states. Here, the actor delivers a tour de force performance that punctuates the survival aspects of the story every time the camera focuses on his pained facial expressions. There is plenty of Freudian subtext that Cusack's character mocks as an invitation to the emotionally cathartic experience he subconsciously demands.

Special effects supervisor Paul Corbould (Children of Men) metes out the room's slippery descent into hellish realms and provides it a modulated crescendo of violence that gently bruises your psyche before walloping it with a concussive double climax. The devil is in the details, and in room 1408, every nightmare holds a deeper meaning to the secret of Enslin's own breakdown.

1408 is a psychological, paranormal and physical juggernaut that will curl your insides. You'll have to think your way through this thriller, which twists like the road to Hana. And you'll be on the edge of your seat the whole time. scene@csindy.com

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