Jaded writer Mike Enslin (John Cusack) makes his living writing about haunted houses, but he doesn't bank on a real brush with the paranormal when he visits a New York hotel and checks into the titular room 1408. Things certainly go bump in the night in this slow-burning Stephen King adaptation. But 1408's short story origins are very clear: think a long, if enjoyable, episode of The Twilight Zone.
Cusack's character is instantly fascinating: the cynical, hard-drinking writer who we just know is about to have a terrifying experience. There's humour in his slightly surreal exchange with the hotel manager Gerald Olin (Samuel L Jackson), as Olin tries to warn and then bribe Mike not to stay in the famously "evil" room. Many people have died there: will Mike survive? Suspense mixes with more sharp humour as Mike checks in and very gradually starts to notice some weird goings-on, that escalate into full-blown horror.
"CUSACK KEEPS THE BUILD-UP WATCHABLE"
At first, it's gripping, but the dreamlike hotel room sequences are a little too long. You start to wonder where the film is going: to the predictable twist, or just kind of nowhere? The eventual ending is certainly thought-provoking, its ambiguity both laudable and frustrating. It's still a slight story, but Cusack's charisma keeps the build-up watchable, and the denoument just the right side of far-fetched. Jackson's character is disappointingly underused, but fans of Cusack, King and psychological horror will want to check out 1408 as much as Mike does.
1408 is out in the UK on 31st August 2007.