Genius Products // 2007 // 112 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // September 5th, 2008
The only demons in room 1408 are those within you.
"They say you can't die in your dreams. Is that true?"
John Cusack (High Fidelity) plays a tired, cynical, weary writer of cheap paperback books about haunted houses. He would love nothing better than to encounter some sort of ghost or spirit, but everything he has seen so far has had a completely logical explanation. Of course, the movie offers him a new challenge: Room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel in New York. The hotel manager (a foreboding Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction) warns Cusack that many people have died in the room...56, to be exact. Cusack rolls his eyes. "What is it, a ghost, a spirit?" "No," Jackson replies. "It's just an evil f -- -ing room." Jackson goes on to explain that no one has survived the room for more than an hour. Cusack takes the challenge, and we all take a quick look at our watches. The game is on.
1408 is the 99th cinematic adaptation of a Steven King story, and it ranks somewhere in the middle of films based on King's material. It has just about all the usual traits of a King horror story: a tortured writer as a protagonist, the use of oldies music over a horrific scene, a general cynicism towards faith, and possibly a supernatural element. The results are not quite on par with The Shining, but this is no Dreamcatcher, either. The movie begins as a sharp and compelling idea, moves towards something scary, and then devolves into near incomprehensibility in the final act. At least, it did originally. This Blu-ray disc offers up the slightly longer director's cut as an alternative, and it thankfully includes a slightly more satisfying and acceptable conclusion to this story. It's difficult to find a convincing ending to a movie like this, but the version offered here is good enough for me. Besides, 1408 is really about the concept, not the solution.
Things start out calmly enough, as Cusack trots around the room making dry observations into his tape recorder about the tiresome banality of the paintings on the wall. Then (of course), things start happening. The window slams shut. The phone starts ringing. Weird noises occur. This gradually grows more intense, until Cusack reaches the point of near insanity. All the while, we begin to wonder how much of what's going on is real, how much of it is in Cusack's mind, whether it's all a dream, and all of that good stuff. Then the film starts to flicker back and forth between reality and fantasy, blending the two until it's nearly impossible to tell which is which. The first time I saw the film in the threatre, I was pretty sure I had everything figured out until the final scene, which just about ruined the logic of the whole affair. It was one of those scenes that feels tacked on because it will make people gasp, even if it doesn't make a lick of sense. It's included here as an alternate scene (the second one). The ending that is actually included is technically guilty of the same thing, but it's a bit easier to forgive and swallow.
There are plenty of noteworthy qualities here. Strong set design and a genuinely unnerving sense of atmosphere go a long way in a movie like this. Cusack is quite excellent in the lead role, running the gamut of emotions quite effectively. It's easy to tell that he's one of the harder-working actors of his generation. I liked his dialogue too. He's very convincing as a writer, well-phrased observations slip off his tongue quite naturally. Taking a cue from Danny DeVito in The War of the Roses, he keeps a cigarette behind his ear, just for theatrical purposes, or in case a situation should ever arise that would make him need a cigarette. The rest of the cast doesn't get much screen time, which is sort of disappointing. I was particularly curious about Jackson's hotel manager, who seems to be the keeper of a lot of secrets. Any revelations about him will have to be drawn from our imagination. There's also a nice little turn for Tony Shaloub (Monk) as Cusack's publicist. Still, this is almost completely Cusack's show, and he carries most of his solo scenes convincingly.
The Blu-ray transfer isn't quite dazzling, but it's solid overall. This is pretty dark film visually, though a refreshing blend of deep blacks, grays, and reds replaces the tiresome blue/green look of many modern horror flicks. It's presented here with relatively deep clarity. Sound is quite solid, I was able to really appreciate some of the nuances of Gabriel Yared's score that might have easily escaped my ears with less pristine audio. Sound design stays pretty busy overall, and gets increasingly feverish as the film builds to it's conclusion. Extras include a good commentary with director Mikael Hafström and writers Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski, several modestly engaging featurettes, two alternate endings (including the original theatrical version), some deleted scenes, and a trailer. All of this stuff was originally presented on the two-disc DVD set, though that set offered both versions of the film instead of just the superior director's cut.
As I said, this film is more about the concept than the explanation. If all you seek is a tense movie that will keep you engaged for a solid 100 minutes or so, then 1408 works about as well as you could ask it to. When it comes time to let the audience know the secret behind the room, well, the movie stumbles all over itself in a vague haze of indecision. It attempts to be frighteningly vague, but instead it just comes across as a film unable to explain itself. All three of the endings that were filmed for the movie struggle with this to varying degrees. The ending that is included is the best because it the least concerned with explanations, and it offers a level of character closure that the other two lacked. Also, the film does become a little predictable after a while. Admittedly, 1408 kept me on edge for at least a good hour, no easy feat. After that, when things start getting a little more intense and large-scale, it's less engaging. The simple scares of slamming doors and alarm clocks felt more effective to me than all the fire and brimstone stuff.
I suppose the movie is a good enough time. The first time I saw it, I was handed one of those report cards by someone from the movie studio. "Please check all the words that would apply to 1408," it requested. Okay. "Well-acted. Interesting. Unique setting. Good special effects. Good main character. Sometimes too predictable. Some characters too undeveloped. Disappointing. A good way to pass time." Would you recommend the film to a friend? "Probably." It's a worthwhile rental, it looks solid in hi-def, and the new ending left a better taste in my mouth. Check into 1408, it's an engaging and creative portrait of a very bad day in an evil f -- -ing room.
Not guilty. Can someone please head up to room 1408 and clean up that
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (Widescreen)
* TrueHD 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 112 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Alternate Endings
* Deleted Scenes
* "The Secret of 1408"
* "John Cusack on 1408"
* "Inside Room 1408"