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1408

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Mary McCormack, Tony Shaloub
Director: Mikael Hafstrom
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Weinstein Company
Features: See Review
Length: (Director’s Cut) 112 Minutes, (Theatrical Version) 104 Minutes
Release Date: October 2, 2007

“If this is all true, we’ve slipped into the 7th circle of hell…it has its charms.”

Film ***1/2

In an age where it seems that the horror genre is dominated mostly by gore-driven splatter-fests, and even I am guilty of wanting to make a stop by Hostel every once and a while, 1408 arrives as a much needed breath of fresh air. I can’t remember the last time a single movie managed to scare me right of my seat just by moments of spontaneous fright. 1408 delivers scares at an alarming rate, and has a good chance of being the best scary movie of the year.

In addition, the movie also happens to be the best screen adaptation of a Stephen King story in quite some time, even though another King based story, The Mist, will be hitting theaters soon. Based on a King short story, 1408 is a superb mixture of atmospheric and psychological horror. Trust me when I say that no other scary movie will give you a bigger head trip than this one, which is a compliment.

Add to the proceedings John Cusack, one of the finest actors of our generation. Cusack is an actor with a knack for picking intelligent scripts, no matter what genre they’re in. The last time Cusack took on a horror project, the result was one of the best films to ever grace the genre, Identity. Once again, he has chosen a top-notch scary movie to add to his resume.

Mike Enslin (Cusack) is a writer who specializes in investigating paranormal myths as basis for his novels. Despite a loyal fan base, he has yet to come across an event that would have him believe that ghosts exist amongst us. He eagerly awaits the day when such a paranormal event will take place before his eyes.

One day, he gets a mysterious postcard from The Dolphin Hotel in New York City. The back of the postcard simply reads, “Don’t go in to room 1408”. Enslin is immediately intrigued and decides to make arrangements to investigate what is certain to be inspirational material for his next novel.

Upon arriving at The Dolphin, he is greeted by the hotel manager, Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson). Olin is insistent that Enslin not go into 1408, and uses every courtesy at his disposal to convince his guest to stay in any other available room. It turns out, room 1408 has been vacant for a specific reason, a total of 56 guests have died in the room since the hotel’s existence, and none of them survived longer than an hour.

But Enslin won’t take no for an answer, and after long Olin has no choice but to accompany his guest’s requests. Once he enters the room, Enslin is less than impressed. No way can such an ordinary hotel suite appear to have such a deadly vibe.

But with one shut of the door, and the ultimately creepy vibe begins to lay itself on both Enslin and the audience. As he conducts his usual opening examining of the area, Enslin is thrown off by the most unexpected occurrences. Case in point, the bed side alarm clock blasts out the timely song “We’ve Only Just Begun” by The Carpenters at a super loud level. It should be mentioned that you won’t ever be able to hear this happy song in the same way again.

And it doesn’t end there. Objects are found in places they weren’t at before, ghostly images seem to appear right in front of Enslin’s eyes, and before long it appears that no one outside the room, or even the building, can notice him when he calls for help. For once, the skeptic writer may have gotten a little more than he bargained for.

At risk of revealing any further surprises in 1408, I’ll leave the rest for you to see. All I can tell you is that with every progressing minute, you have no idea where the story is going to go. And unlike most horror thrillers where the last half disappoints after a clever set up, this movie gets more and more intense and scary as it makes its way towards the conclusion.

While I’m talking about the conclusion, now is the best point to go into the two versions of the movie included on this Two Disc Collector’s Edition. One disc contains the Theatrical cut, while the other contains an extended Director’s Cut with an entirely new ending. I saw the movie in its theatrical run and I liked how it ended, but I was even more surprised by how the Director’s Cut finishes off. Usually I watch alternate endings and understand why they were cut from the movie, but I actually think the ending in this new version should’ve been the original ending. It’s a more brutal finish, so in a way its clear why the ending in the Theatrical cut was used.

For all its amazing atmospheric and scary qualities, the key ingredient in the success of the movie is John Cusack’s performance. This was unquestionably a huge challenge for the actor because for about 90% of the movie, he’s the only actor on screen. Not only does Cusack demonstrate that he can very much carry a movie on his own, but he also reveals an intense side of himself I’ve never seen before. When you come across the scene where he tears apart the inside of a refrigerator, you won’t believe the actor you’re seeing before you.

To simply put it, 1408 is a superb piece of horror cinema that any true fan of the genre will appreciate greatly. It applies the old-school approach to delivering scares and succeeds wonderfully. I can’t say I’ve seen many horror films where the look, the script and the acting each played a heavy role, but 1408 has those distinctive qualities that make it the pleasant rarity that it is.

Video ****

The look of the movie plays a vital role in the effect, and this anamorphic presentation courtesy of The Weinstein Company is absolutely first rate. A great deal of the movie is confined to one setting without a great deal of light, and yet the picture looks incredible in its every scene. The level of detail is absolutely amazing. Overall, one of the most solid DVD presentations of the year!

Audio ****

Just as astounding is the 5.1 mix, which adds a great effect to the many scares that the movie has to offer. Right from the beginning, dynamic surround sound is in place and is creepy and thoroughly effective right down to the final frame. Dialogue delivery and music score also dominate hugely in terms of performance. It’s one sound experience that places you right there in the room, which is as close as anyone wants to be.

Features ***

The Two Disc Collector’s Edition is indeed the one to go for, as it includes more in the extras department. Disc One (the Theatrical Version) contains the Theatrical Trailer and two featurettes; “John Cusack on 1408” and “Inside Room 1408”

Disc Two (Director’s Cut) includes a commentary with director Mikael Hafstrom and screenwriters Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, an additional featurette titled “The Secrets of 1408” and Deleted Scenes with optional commentary.

Summary:

You should indeed check into 1408 if it’s a superbly crafted and quite scary piece of cinema that you seek. John Cusack delivers a strong and revealing performance and the movie is a pure triumph of atmospheric and psychological horror. You could check out if it’s too much for you, but that wouldn’t be good now would it?

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