Stephen King film adaptations can be famous or infamous based on their quality. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is what many consider not only the best adaptation, but also one of the best horror films of all time. While Misery, The Shawshank Redemption, and Carrie are proof that his work can be adapted well, The Langoliers, Rose Red, and IT prove that it’s not always a formula for Hollywood gold.
This week on Manic Movie Magic, we’re going to take a look at one of the most recent adaptations, based on King’s 1999 short story, 1408.
Released in 2007, 1408 tells the tale of Mike Enslin, a jaded writer who tours the country looking for haunted places in order to make a living, recieves a mysterious postcard telling him not to enter room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel in New York City. Intrigued, he travels the country, and demands the hotel’s manager Mr. Olin, played by Samuel L. Jackson, let him in the room. Mr. Olin tries to get him to change his mind by bribing him and telling him about the room’s dark history, but ends up giving him the key. Enslin soon finds that the room is just as terrible as Mr. Olin warned and is stuck in his own private Hell.
This movie definitely has its strong points. On the acting side, John Cusack is great in this movie, even though he’s not the strongest actor. He goes from cocky, to paranoid, to completely insane, to devoid of all hope in the span of an hour, and it’s a very smooth, believable progression. His role is to basically carry the movie, and for the most part, he does that pretty well, playing up the paranoia and desperation of the character.
Jackson’s portrayal of Mr. Olin is spot on. While I would have loved more of him in the film, his presence is foreboding, and creepy but also pretty badass (though this is Samuel L. Jackson we’re taking about). His part is mostly there for exposition, and he’s one the three characters that actually play an important role in the movie. I don’t think I could see anyone else playing this character, that’s how good he is. He plays off of Cusak’s sarcastic remarks really well in the beginning, almost as if they’re trying to one-up each other.
Other than those two, the supporting does their job efficiently and without bringing any attention to them, which is the sign of a good cast. The goal of the cast is to get the exposition out, get Enslin to the room, and torture him from there til the end – which is also done really well without seeming as if their parts are rushed.
But this movie has a big problem, and it really got in the way of me really enjoying the film. It’s evident very early on that the room is not only paranormal, but has a consciousness. It’s not passive-aggressive, like Silent Hill (in the games) that merely reflects your guilt in the monsters you face and is otherwise an isolating force. The room torments Enslin, showing him his old, sick father, his dead daughter, and even tricks him into believing he has escaped. It even offers him suicide as a means for making it all end, taunting him with various nooses.
What could be so malicious, so cruel, to torment people over and over again, hour by hour?
We don’t know. And if anyone in the movie knew, no one let on. The closest thing we get to an explanation is from Samuel L. Jackson: “It’s an evil fucking room.” No, really? The room is evil? I never would have guessed! I thought this movie was about 1,408 puppies.
Some movies, like The Birds, don’t have to explain what’s going on and still make sense. This movie did not pull that off well. Why is the room evil? It has a consciousness, it even sort of talks to Enslin at one point using Mr. Olin’s image. Does it have to do with the room numbers adding to 13? If so, why does that matter? If the room was evil from its inception, then was that space always going to be evil? Furthermore, at one point, the room walls in the windows, and very clearly etched in the brick are the words “Burn me alive.” None of the victims died on fire, so does that mean the room wants to die? If so, then why does it fight back at the end?
The cinematography is good, as are the special effects. When filming most of a movie in one setting, especially one so cramped as a hotel room, it can be tricky to keep the imagery fresh. The room goes through constant changes, and makes it feel claustrophobic and a world of its own at the same time. It does rely on several jump scares, and I think Enslin has a pretty cliché back story, but I do agree with many critics that the lack of gore everywhere is a welcome change from the norm.
There’s an alternate ending, which was the original ending that was changed because the test audience thought it was too depressing. Personally, I would watch both and decide which one you enjoy the most and consider that canon – neither was significantly better or worse in my eyes.
Ultimately, while 1408 was better than most of the horror movies coming out these days, I can’t help but feel underwhelmed by it, as if it was missing that spark to truly elevate it about the rest. I’m not saying it’s a terrible movie, but I’ll probably never see it again. While I personally don’t like it, I have to give it a fair rating, because it really is a stable, decent horror film.
Tune in next week when I review, and I’m not kidding here, The Happening.