1408 is Blair Witch in a hotel room, and way scarier than a bundle of sticks and a pile of rocks. It makes The Shining look like a cheap motel. I'll keep saying it's sickly brilliant and twistedly clever until that becomes my catch phrase.=.
Movie Review: 1408
It's a classic Stephen King scenario. A debunker of ghost stories (John Cusack) braves his way into a haunted hotel room only to find the stories are real. The evil room puts him through the increasingly surreal ringer until he ultimately faces his personal demons. Don't worry, there are literal apparitions too. King's good like that.
This simple concept could easily be a cheap B movie so the film does a good job making it believable in a fun way. They address practical issues of getting into the room from legal measures to keeping an evil hotel room clean and maintained.
The talky theatrical banter with the superstitious manager (Samuel L. Jackson) builds up the first act. It's pure charisma handling the material, though I wish Jackson had just said, "I've had it with these dead motherf***in' bodies in this motherf***in' hotel room!" I guess King didn't write to the MF.
The first bits of spookiness are subtle. Normal hotel room accoutrements appear, defying the laws of physics. Even when the standard items begin to attack, they're still obeying their natural laws. The sink sprays, the window slams and the radio blasts music. It's not like they sprout arms and legs and start kicking the guy's ass. The clock changing numbers maybe supernatural but it's still within the functions of the clock.
It builds pretty quickly though and there are some delightful visual gags. It evolves to hallucinogenic visions and alternate universes.
When the antics aren't visual enough to sustain a movie, the filmmakers load the simple stuff with style. Closeups of the key hole and point of views from the mail slot keep things looking interesting. They also give the author a tape recorder to speak into so that there's dialogue/monologue.
The characters have classic King traits. For one, he's an author. He's paying the bills with the schlocky ghost books because his very personal novel didn't sell well. And he's got a cool superstition about a last cigarette he keeps with him, even though he's quit smoking. He's also smart enough to try to outsmart the room. Of course the room has already thought of something else.
There are a few holes if you want to be nitpicky. They say electronics don't work in the room but it has lights and television. The clangy music is a bit much, but this is high supernatural melodrama so it's not too distracting.
Once again, Stephen King provides the framework for a perfect thriller. Yeah, it's familiar territory but this time it's contained to one room and it's not some elaborate backstory. As Jackson's character says, it's just an evil f***in' room. That's storytelling at its most pure.