Why do you think people believe in ghosts? Because it's fun? – Gerald
Stephen King loves his haunted places. Almost as much as he loves writing about writers. I know they say you should write what you know, but it's starting to bug me. In spite of that, I really like the latest adaptation of one of his spook-filled places, 1408.
The original King story was voted one of RevolutionSF's 13 Scariest. The plot is amazingly simple to break down. John ("Grosse Point Blank") Cusack is a writer who drives around visiting haunted places. He then writes top ten guides to them, such as "The Top 10 Scariest Lighthouses." This lets him drive around the country as he tries to avoid the tragedies in his past.
He gets a postcard, sent from and having the picture of the Dolphin Hotel. On the back is the cryptic message "Don't enter room 1408." Figuring this to be a publicity stunt, although a good one, he calls the hotel and tries to book the room. At first, surprisingly enough, they refuse.
He heads to New York and meets hotel manager Gerald (Samuel L. "Bad Mother-Filker" Jackson), who does his level best to convince Cusack not to stay in the room. The fourth death after he became manager, Gerald ordered the room off limits to guests.
Needless to say, none of this fazes Cusack, who thinks it's all dressing to hype the room. Having stayed in dozens of supposedly haunted places, he's sure he can handle whatever the evil room can throw at him.
He gets the obligatory "there's something behind you in the reflection!" scare. And there's an evil clock radio. It uses the Carpenters' "We've Only Just Begun," which is a scary enough song already.
Now, there is a lot in 1408 that we've seen before, especially if you're a King fan. There are bits from his short stories, The Shining, and others. However, it's all put together well, and is saved by Cusack's performance.
While Cusack may share the title bill and poster with Jackson, this movie is all about him. Jackson has maybe 10 minutes of screen time, and he does a great job with it, including a fun hallucination. Everyone else, however, has what amounts to extended cameos. Once Cusack enters the room the film becomes a one-man, one-room play.
The movie, through the room's terrors, peels away Cusack's cynicism, his self-loathing, and everything else he's put around himself to cover up the massive wound he calls a soul. And while what happened to him is pretty easy to figure out, the exposure of it is handled expertly, mainly thanks to Cusack.
Cusack brings a depth to the character, and makes us believe in this damaged writer, keeps him sympathetic, striking just the right notes of jaded disbelief at the beginning to the victim near the end. I really don't think this film would work nearly as well with anyone else in the role. No one can portray jaded, snarky, intellectual and yet wounded people like he can, which is why I'm a big fan of his.
1408 isn't the best ghost story done on film, and it's not the best haunted hotel story either. It is, however, a well acted and written character piece with some decent scares. And if you can watch it without remembering all the little bits that are echoes of earlier King stories, it's a lot of fun.