Monday, June 25, 2007

1408


Room with a Boo

I can’t say I’m a true horror fan, but I do like a good horror movie. This involves the feeling of suspense, and a nagging worry that something bad is going to happen to someone I care about. I don’t want a lot of gore (a little is okay), but gimme all the atmosphere you can muster, and I’ll bite. The new horror flick 1408 seemed to possess all of these qualities and it stars John Cusack, an actor I always like. I’m happy to report the movie did deliver--up to a point. I’m sad to report that after the film peaks, it struggles to maintain the high bar it sets for itself, then descends into big budget silliness.

Mike Enslin (Cusack) is a writer who has settled into writing unfulfilling, but best selling books about “haunted” locations around America. He brings all the requisite gear, and listens to all the legends, but has never once been convinced that ghosts are real. Coupled with the tragic death of his young daughter, he believes even less in any form of the afterlife. When a mysterious postcard warns him about room 1408 in the Dolphin Hotel in New York, he’s quickly on a plane to check it out. Despite strong words by hotel Manager Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson) to dissuade him, Enslin enters 1408 and his journey into hell begins...

The setup of 1408 (1+4+0+8=13, of course) is very good, especially in the scene between Olin and Enslin. We learn of all the deaths that have taken place there, including natural deaths. Some have flung themselves out the window, while others have gouged out their own eyes. With full contempt, Enslin states that he doesn’t believe in monsters, or a God who protects us from them. He pretty much dares the room to attack him, which of course it does. It reminded me of myself whenever I enter a horror flick, and dare it to scare me.

The film (based on a Stephen King short story), is scary, and builds nicely. At first it is the little things that are freaky (like a clock radio that only plays “We’ve Only Just Begun” by The Carpenters), and then the room starts to really get nasty. There is a great moment when Enslin sees something odd in the neighboring building across the street, followed by a really good fright. I did jump several times, and admit to really being scared about what Enslin was going to find when he went back into a room he had just left.

Unfortunately, the movie gets too big for its own britches. When a poltergeist breaks a lamp, or creates a subtle optical illusion, I bought it. When water gushed out of a painting of a ship at sea, putting the whole room underwater, I scoffed. The movie worked with the simple and real, but as it went on, nothing felt real, and I became disconnected from the story, comfortable that what I was now seeing could never happen.

The actors definitely pull their weight. Cusack (The Ice Harvest), who is on screen for the entire running length, does a good job portraying a jerk who gets his comeuppance after tempting fate. It’s fun to see him in such an intense role, after starring in so many romantic comedies. He starts losing his mind a little too fast, but gives a strong character base while all the effects work erupts around him. Jackson (Snakes on a Plane) is effectively ominous as the manager and since he is Samuel L. Jackson, gets to utter the lone F-bomb allowed by the PG-13 rating. Mary McCormack as Enslin’s wife and Jasmine Jessica Anthony as his daughter effectively round out the supporting cast.

For me, 1408 was a mixed bag. I appreciated the scary setup, but thought it peaked too early, and lost its footing. If you’re just looking for viscera, 1408 is worth a stay. If you want a little more meaning with your horror, you might want to check out early. Either way, this is a decent effort that could have and should have been better--and scarier.

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