There’s just something spooky about hotel rooms. For the third time this year, Hollywood has shown us that bad things happen to White folks when they don’t respect the power of temporary lodging. While both Vacancy and Bug were just warm-ups, havoc and mayhem are in full effect in the delightfully evil, 1408 (*** stars).
Horror novelist, Mike Enslin (John Cusack) is a best-selling author who writes books disproving paranormal events. When the film opens, Enslin is checking into a supposed “haunted” hotel room for his latest book, Ten Nights in Haunted Hotel Rooms.” He exhibits a familiar been-there-done-that attitude about his work. Smug and arrogant, Enslin exhibits no fear because not only does he not believe in ghosts but has no respect for the subject he writes about. He is a man slowly ascending on life’s rollercoaster unaware that he is just about to take an incredibly steep plunge that will change his fortunes.
While going through his mail, Enslin discovers a cryptic postcard warning him to stay away from Room 1408. After researching the horrific history of the fateful room, Enslin’s interest is successfully piqued; he decides to pay a visit to the Dolphin Hotel. But before he can check in, he is quickly escorted to the office of the hotel’s manager, Mr. Olin (Samuel L. Jackson) who passionately tries to dissuade the author from staying in the room.
Initially, Olin tries to reason with Enslin by offering him a bribe, as well as $800 liquor. Finally, he shares photos of over 50 other people who all mysteriously died within an hour of checking in. After telling Enslin that he doesn’t care about his well-being or cleaning up the inevitable carnage, he shares his true reason – it’s just an evil f***** room! But Enslin is determined to be the one person who will survive and with supreme arrogance, he decides to stay.
All’s working out well for Enslin, until a series of minor occurrences begin to spook him. Suddenly, without warning, The Carpenter’s “We’ve Only Just Begun” begins to blare over the radio speakers and the clock flickers and begins the freaky 60 minute countdown; now he wants out. Remember that rollercoaster we spoke about earlier, well now he’s in the middle of a ride that will feature many strange twists and turns and just when he thought he was out, he is surely pulled back in, again and again.
The one thing that will thrill Black audiences is that they are well represented in this film. In addition to Jackson’s character, which wouldn’t get off the elevator on the 14th floor, there is incredibly insightful hotel maintenance man who refuses to go in the room to service the thermostat. “Any fool can fix one of those,” he barks out while giving Enslin maintenance instructions and quickly making himself scarce. Neither character displays buffoonish Hollywood fear characteristics, but both exercise true common sense – the type that Enslin should have used. The filmmaker’s handlings of these delicate issues as well as the psychological torture inflicted on Enslin are only a couple of the reasons that this film succeeds.
Cusack’s everyman demeanor makes him the perfect candidate for this role and his performance sells the film. Unsettling and uncomfortable, 1408 is high-style terror on a grand scale and one of the year’s scariest films.