Saturday, April 4, 2009

Movie Review: 1408

An open letter to Stephen King…
Dear Mister King,
Big fan. Love the work. Think you are marvelous and so glad we’ve blessed by your fabulous stories.
But man. What happened to you when you stayed at the Stanley Hotel? I mean The Shining, 1408 and heaven knows what else must have come from what happened there.
And can I just say what took place…as a reader and viewer I’m glad it did.
Thanks for scaring the Hell out of us.

For all those who like a good haunting tale. For all those who enjoy the cuteness, wit, and talent that is John Cusack. And for all who just like to be taken on a great ride and get sucked into a movie for an hour and a half. Look no further. 1408 has arrived. Yes, the latest movie based on a Stephen King short story has hit. And happily it’s a rousing success.

John Cusack’s Mike Enslin is a man who really has wished that he could find something to believe in. But he’s a cynic whose heart was broken by the tragic loss of his daughter, Katie, and the resulting falling apart of his loving marriage. Enslin may be an author who makes his living writing about giving people chills, but inside he has lost all faith and is broken apart.

So when he gets a postcard from the Dolphin Hotel warning not to enter 1408, he sees it as a clever marketing ploy to be written up in his next spooky travel guide. He is even more intrigued when the manager Gerald Olin, played by the always stunning Samuel L. Jackson, refuses to let him stay in the room and goes out of his way to try change Enslin’s mind about having an overnight stay. He offers Enslin several ways to get a story on the room without risk, all of course are rejected immediately. The banter between Enslin and Olin is just priceless. Both are determined and fast-witted as all get out. It is worth the price alone to see these two play off each other. Without mellow drama or a tragic backstory, Olin perfectly sums up what is going on with room 1408 when he drops the gem of a line, “It’s an evil f*!@#ing room.”

Yep it is.

But it also has a wicked sense of humor. Steven King’s tale does for the Carpenters’ sweet song, “We’ve only just begun” what Reservoir Dogs did to “Stuck in the middle with you.” It has claimed the song and made it forever connected in the minds of readers and viewers with the story.

The room practically says “Uht-uht uht” and wags a finger at Enslin when he consults the emergency exit map in the room to devise a manner of getting out. After one failed attempt, he returns to the map and find the only thing listed is 1408 and it is like the rest of the universe outside of it has vanished.

Because Cusack is such a good comedic actor and is best known for his fast paced dialogue delivery in gems like Say Anything, Grosse Pointe Blank and High Fidelity, I don’t think that people have really comprehended just how good Cusack is. Look no further. During the battle with the room he has brief interactions with his wife, his lost daughter and even Olin, but it has almost a feel of a one-man show at times. And you are riveted. Yes, he brings an engaging humor, but Cusack also gives you a man who has felt so much terror that he fears having a complete breakdown. He shows all the grief and love of a father who has lost a beloved daughter to death and a beloved wife to his grief. Finally he turns that corner from fear to almost serenely and coldly fighting back.

I was very moved when Enslin is given a precious moment with his dead child. Here she stands alive again before him, and even his instinct that is it just another trick can’t overcome his heart when his daughter asks him, doesn’t he love her any more?

But I particularly enjoyed the hint of how wonderfully wicked Cusack could be if someone cast him as a bad guy. There is a moment where he manages to communicate with his estranged wife via video chat on his laptop computer and the room takes over projecting an image of him asking for her immediate help and drawing her to the hotel room. When the conversation is over and she exits the chat dialogue screen, Enslin’s chatroom live streaming image that the room is projecting looks right at the real Enslin and gives a delicious, evil wink and grin. Please cast him as a villain NOW people! We are missing out!

Director Mikael Hafstrom achieves both a sense of claustrophobia and an even scarier feeling that the room can basically become a broad encompassing universe. He knows how to rev up the dread and release it. He also doesn’t play to the cheap thrills. This is brilliantly paced and engaging. It is what a great haunting story should be. We are treated to laughs, to screams and a great battle. I now will have to watch Derailed for more than just Clive Owen since it is also done by Hafstrom.

Yeah, 1408…it’s an evil f*!@#ing room, but it’s one also one of the best and most fun movies I’ve had the pleasure to enjoy in a while.

Video Vamp Rating: 4 Roses

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