Directed by: Mikael Håfström
Written by: Matt Greenberg, Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
Starring: John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Mary McCormack, Tony Shalhoub
The power of belief can be one of the strongest forces a human can possess. Our belief that we could land on the moon brought us there as a nation. As children, we believe monsters lurk under the bed and want to take us. In his horrifying film, a ghost skeptic author learns to battle his belief in a room that brings plenty of horrors.
Having built a reputation for disproving haunted houses and many ghost stories, Mike Enslin (John Cusack) steps up to his next challenge of room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel located in New York City. The stories of its horrors stopped management from allowing people to stay there and they keep a cleaning schedule of having two people at a time with the door open. Despite the protests by the hotel manager (Samuel L. Jackson), Mike insists that he wants to spend the night in the room.
I will never forget my first experience with 1408 and the impact it left on me. Watching it as a young teen, it frightened the life out of me and now rewatching it as an adult has allowed me to appreciate it for its incredible sense of mood. Everything happens in the build-up that leads to Mike’s entrance to the room. It begins with the stories attached to the room and the reluctance the manager, Gerald Olin, has of letting Mike stay there. They even share the story of what happened when two maids let the door close on them while they cleaned the space. The mood continues as Olin escorts Mike up the elevator but then refuses to get off on the 14th floor. As Mike gets out, Olin wishes him the best, and the elevator closes and all of our safety dissipates. Olin feels like the rational person who tries to stop everything from happening and once Mike stands alone and enters the room, anything goes. As an audience, we should not be as scared because Mike has become such a skeptic that we should be aligned with his thoughts. However, we know we’re in a horror film and things are about to go array.
Throughout Mike’s experiences in the room, it all comes together in a slow build that eventually explodes with its attempts to kill him. For example, the song, “We’ve Only Just Begun” by The Carpenters ominously plays from the alarm clock/radio in the room throughout his stay in the room. To this day, if that song ever comes up, I get the chills. Not only does the song eventually get contorted to terrifying degrees, but it obviously states the series of events that will occur to Mike. It conveys a feeling of hopelessness that ensues and will soon find its way to Mike. After all of the horror sequences occur, Mike finds out that he needs to get out of the room quickly with the only way being the express checkout. I’ll let you think about what exactly that means in the context of the film.
I truly enjoyed the inventiveness of some of the scare sequences and just how sinister everything became for Mike. One involving Mike seeking help from someone in the skyscraper across from the hotel scared the life out of me. Especially, someone who has spent many nights in New York City, it made me afraid to look across at any windows for a significant amount of time when younger. The room wants to torture Mike and wants him to see that the only escape from this madness comes from the express checkout that other patrons have utilized in the past. In that way, it plays into the unsettling nature of hotel rooms. No matter how much a staff cleans up rooms, certain things can never be erased from those spaces, as you think of everyone who has been there before. Horrific things happen in hotel rooms from extra-marital affairs to even death (a wide spectrum). One can never know who or what has been on that bed once you enter a hotel room.
Based on a Stephen King short story, 1408 delivers all of the thrills and scares you would want in such a contained story. It obviously does not scare me in the same way it did when younger, but I appreciate the atmosphere it creates and how the room suffocates us and makes a happy ending seem impossible. We lose all sense of protection and safety once the elevator door closes on Olin and until the end, nothing that occurs in the room can be trusted. An incredible piece of horror filmmaking that utilizes its atmospheric slow buildup well and will always make it a bit scary for me to enter a hotel room.