1408 is a PG-13 movie starring John Cusack about an evil fucking room. The movie is based on a short story the Stephen King wrote to show how easy it is for him to create the base narrative of a horror story. The filmmakers took a ton of money and big names like Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson, and just threw that shit at King’s story to see what stuck. Check out the trailer below, and then continue on down for the review. Unless you’re worried about spoilers, because those abound.
Reviewed by: Jack
1408 is a movie about author Mike Enslin (John Cusack) who stays in supposedly haunted buildings and writes about it. He’s a skeptic, so when Sam Jackson and the rest of the crew of New York hotel The Dolphin plead with him not to stay in the extremely haunted Room 1408, he suspects that it’s all just to get a writeup in his next book. After finally being allowed to stay in the “evil fucking room” Mike gets more than he bargained for as he’s forced to grapple with the reality that it’s not just a publicity stunt and really is an evil fucking room. Eventually, after thinking he’s escaped but realizing that there is no escape from the room, he burns that mother down. Finally free, he sets in to write about his experience in 1408. Hey at least the decor had its charms.
What the Movie Does Right
The setup of the movie is really great. It does a tremendous job of cutting off resources to isolate John Cusack, and that isolation comes through and is imparted on the viewer. This is helped by the acting, which for the most part is really strong. But when the only four actors (pretty much) to get screentime in the first half are John Cusack, Sam Jackson, Tony Shaloub, and Senator Clay Davis from the Wire, that’s pretty much to be expected.
The story is also overall pretty good. Now that’s also not surprising because this is based on a Stephen King novella, and that guy knows a thing or two about horror. Interestingly, the story is one King was writing as a bullshit example of how to craft a generic horror story for his book “On Writing,” but because he’s Stephen King even the nonsense stories he shits out in service of something else are worthy of being turned into $25 million movie projects.
What the Movie Does Wrong
Remember everything I said about the setup being pretty awesome? Yeah . . . the payoff is . . . not. Whereas the setup showed a lot of restraint in cutting off resources and making the viewer feel isolated, the bonkers climax shows no restraint and brings everything from tiny Sam Jackson in the mini-fridge, to zombies chasing Cusack through the vents, to paintings that explode waves and return our hero to an earlier surfing accident.
Essentially everything that happens after this turn, I didn’t give a flying fuck about. The effects aren’t bad by any means, but they’re way too much, unnecessary, and poorly chosen. I also feel the need to mention the repeated use of the Howie Scream for absolutely no reason. Wildly immersion breaking.
Finally, the PG-13-ness of the movie becomes abundantly clear. It seems like they wanted to go deeper on some of the effects-driven scares, but they were shackled by the studio and the huge amount of money shelled out to make this thing happen. And what they get isn’t bad, I just really don’t care. The punch this movie could’ve had was pulled significantly.
Story: 7 - Look, all of the credit here goes to Stephen King. The concept of this movie is pretty great. It’s classic horror: put the characters in a place where you can believably cut off resources and isolate them. That’s what’s done here and it works well. Now it’s not perfect, and the movie is actually paced pretty poorly, but it’s got great bones.
World-Building / Immersion: 5 - This is a tale of two different scores. The setup portion is terrifically immersive. I’m all the way on board for all of that. But the payoff portion pulls you all the way out. There’s way too many effects, most of which are unnecessary, and you just lose any ability to give a shit about what’s going on.
Scare-Factor: 5 - Some of the early dread and psychological stuff actually works really well. And that stuff is combined with some damn-effective jump scares. It actually works pretty well. Unfortunately it’s then ruined by tiny Sam Jackson and waves exploding from paintings. Also that fucking Howie scream.
Effects (or Judicious Lack Thereof): 4 - Like I mentioned earlier, none of this looks actively bad. It just looks unnecessary. The budget this thing had shows through, but it just feels like it could have been something really special in the hands of someone with a little more artistic vision.
Overall: 5 - This is almost the platonic ideal of a middle of the road big budget PG-13 horror movie. There’s nothing wrong with it per se, but you’re sure as shit not going to have that much fun watching the thing. It’s fine. Everything is fine.