But, certainly, there's no real way to prepare you for this new Stephen King story-to-screen adaptation from director Mikael Håfström (Derailed). This is a psychologically mind-jittering uppercut, rooted in the depths of insanity's hell. And, boy, does it possess the audacious fervency to rattle many a cage. Maybe it's the lack of solid thrillers and psychotic screw jobs present within our recent cinematic docket, but 1408 delivers. Hard.
Mike Enslin (John Cusack) trots across the country in search for haunted grounds, whether it be graveyards, mansions, or hotel rooms, to write about in his expose novels. He's got a keen eye, a magnificent set of tools, and an undying disbelief in the paranormal that can crush beliefs of the netherworld with a few keystrokes. Matter of fact, after a truly tumultuous event with his family, Mike is left believing in next to nothing other than the potency of a liquor bottle.
During a routine run to his P.O. Box, our writer discovers an anonymous postcard with two key facts emblazoned on its stock card print: Dolphin Hotel, Room 1408. Never batting an eyelash at a challenge, Mike packs his things, pulls a few strings, and makes his way into his own personal forbidden city, New York, to stay at the mysterious hotel - in a room that needn't be repeated. After some hardcore finagling with a conscientious, warning hotel manager (Samuel L. Jackson), our writer finally finds his way into the "evil" room. This hotel room isn't anything but dust on Enslin's shoulder to be brushed off, right?
Tales of insanity, suicide, and overall depreciation plague this room, giving our setting a thickness about the air as dense as English fog. That's where our stalwart director Håfström has accomplished more than the lion's share of cinematically precise tension within a tale of insurmountable madness. Coated in wondrously incensed atmosphere, 1408 makes you feel every ounce of fear and disparity Mike feels. Plunging into the wicked room's immersion is akin to having your whole cranial cavity twisted and shattered into oblivion, steadily at first and then to an unrelenting momentum that's unthinkably complex.
1408's complexity comes rooted in sheer outstanding concentration on design. Every inch of the flick, from the subtle effects to the outlandish anarchy exploding within this hellish vortex, oozes with tangibly exquisite detail. It's a normal hotel room, coated with a creepy, icy posture and epic architecture. But, for the hour and a half that 1408 sinks its claws into you, it's yours and Mike's little prison of dilapidated, wispy torment.
Speaking of Mike, John Cusack and the rest of the cast deliver the goods right alongside this expertly formulated tension. Though I've relished in his neurotic performances in Grosse Pointe Blank, High Fidelity, and even Say Anything..., Cusack surprised me with his rasp and temerity. Yeah, he's an actor that has difficulties shaking off his inherent aura, but it seems like Cusack harnesses this and, with a bit of manipulation, crafts a perfectly broken and rattled hero. Pair this Cusack with Jackson's brief but enjoyable presence in 1408, however, and you've got a scenario lined with gold. Cusack plays his character up, while Jackson swallows down his aggressiveness from everything but his eyes to create a mean, enjoyable demeanor.
Even amidst all this, you know where 1408 really scares up a blazing stripe of differentiation from the rest of the pack? Within this terrifying and claustrophobic tale of restless poltergeists, well-crafted dialogue echoes amidst the chaos. Cusack's authorial ramblings into his trusty recorder are nothing short of engaging, humorous, and quite real to the ears. There's a lot of witty lines pouring from the author, and each one grasps aural contentment to the viewer's ears. Even better is the aforementioned parlay between Jackson and Cusack. Between the two of them, you build a bit of security about Enslin's conviction, and feel equally dreadful about him even stepping foot into that room.
When you actually do step in that room with Mike, there's such a rich level of build-up that you nearly sense the chaos before it even happens. I was expecting to ultimately be let down following the mounting tension, but, after an hour or so of skull-rattling ferocity, 1408 flashed straight past my expectations. Bear in mind this isn't a horror film for the purely gore-and-guts crowd seeking a plethora of grueling scenes. However, if you want to satisfy that taste for a disturbingly convoluted and unrelenting psychological thriller, then take the chance, crank the key, and step on into 1408.