Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #604
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: June 22, 2007
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 112 minutes
Director: Mikael Håfström
Producer: Lorenzo di Bonaventura
Screenplay: Matt Greenberg, Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski
Based on 1408 by Stephen King
Special Effects: Paul Corbould
Visual Effects: David Dozoretz, Sean Farrow, Adam Gascoyne, Matt Hicks, Simon Leech, Ben Shepherd, Val Wardlaw
Cinematography: Benoît Delhomme
Score: Gabriel Yared
Editing: Peter Boyle
Studio: Lorenzo di Bonaventura Productions
Distributor: Dimension Films
Stars: John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Mary McCormack, Tony Shalhoub, Len Cariou, Jasmine Jessica Anthony, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Kim Thomson, Benny Urquidez, Andrew-Lee Potts, Jules de Jongh
♫ Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫
 Ray Noble & His Orchestra “Midnight, The Stars and You”
 Gabriel Yared “End Credits”
 Gabriel Yared “The Doppelganger”
Before I begin my appraisal for Mikael Håfström’s 1408, I feel that a short anecdote is in order to set the tone. It involves a 10-day trip I took to Los Angeles back in 2014 to work on the screenplay for a film with a dear friend. On my arrival, I was put up at the HMS Queen Mary, stationed on Long Beach, and we shared a room for the duration of my stay in order to thrash out the treatment. According to Time Magazine, this particular liner ranked amongst the Top 10 Most Haunted Places in America and that made it an ideal locale to work on horror fiction together. Considering we were to be cooped up in close quarters for the foreseeable, provisions were all important and, to my recollection, we consumed a rather outrageous amount of hash to usher us into our creative flow. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before we decided to go walkabout on the lower levels and this led us directly to the infamous room B340.
This particular chamber’s reputation preceded it as it just so happened to be reportedly the most haunted of all the rooms and had played host to all manner of unexplained paranormal phenomena. Some claim that it is cursed by the spirit of a murdered purser, where others tell tales of faucets that turn on by themselves and bed sheets that dance around the room of their own free will. Perhaps the most disturbing report is of previous occupants who woke in the middle of the night feeling like some unseen weight was pressing down on their chests. As you’d imagine, access to room B340 was strictly prohibited unless a guided tour was being facilitated. Not that it stopped us breaking in (respectfully of course) and taking a snoop around first-hand. I mean, how could a pair of terror twins like us possibly not right?
Once inside the room it didn’t take long to work out that something wasn’t kosher. The air felt thick and it was hard to shake the feeling that neither one of us were welcome. Nevertheless my friend took the opportunity to snap a selfie and it wasn’t until we returned to our quarters and checked the photo that we spotted the vague outline of a hangman’s noose in shot directly behind him. Next up was a spot of cabin fever as we settled down to sleep and both suffered an uncontrollable laughing fit that lasted almost an hour, even though neither one of us knew what was actually amusing. Then at around 3 AM, I woke to notice the bathroom light was on to my left. Looking across to his bunk, I noticed that his bed sheets were moving so presumed him to be asleep. However, just as I did, the toilet flushed and he returned to the room leaving me quizzing what the hell I had actually just witnessed.
An hour or so later, he could take no more, and expressed his desire to return home to his family. This meant spending the remainder of the night on my lonesome but I quickly agreed as I could see how desperate he was to split. I made it through by building a makeshift fortress from my bed linen and mercifully slept through until morning without further incident. However, as we hooked up the next day, he informed me that he had awoken in the early hours with his hands around his wife’s throat and with no idea what had led him to do so. While I’ve never once seen a ghost in my lifetime, the events aboard the HMS Queen Mary will always stay with me and the notorious room B340 certainly has some paranormal game let me assure you. Therefore, 1408 was two lengthy strides ahead when it came to pushing my buttons before the very first bump in the night.
Based on a short story by master of the macabre Stephen King, Håfström’s film tells the tale of Mike Enslin (John Cusack), an accomplished author of haunted tour guide novels with a specialty for debunking paranormal activity. Deeply cynical, he is also still reeling after losing their beloved daughter Katie to cancer. In typical guy form, he bottled his anguish while his wife Lily (Mary McCormack) mourned openly, leading them to grow apart and eventually separate under a cloud of confusion. Naturally his first instinct has been to throw himself into his work and, after receiving an anonymous postcard depicting the antiquated Dolphin Hotel in New York City, warning “Don’t enter room 1408”, he does the precise opposite and makes a reservation before packing his overnight bags and heading off there to appraise the property.
“Look, I’m not telling you not to stay in that room for your own good or for the profit of the hotel. Frankly, selfishly, I just don’t want to clean up the mess.”
If there’s one thing that Mike isn’t going to shirk away from then that would be a challenge and, as he arrives at the hotel to check in and get to work, that is exactly what he receives. The desk staff are decidedly cagey and, after refusing their generous offer to upgrade his room to one of their most lavish penthouse suites, the buck is passed to manager Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson) to assist him in seeing sense. The two retire to Olin’s office to discuss the implications of spending the night in this particular chamber further and it is made abundantly clear to Mike that 1408 is not the place to lay his head for the night. The longest anyone has managed to stay inside the room is one hour and 56 people have perished within in a history steeped in unexplained tragedy.
“Why do you think people believe in ghosts? For fun? No, it’s the prospect of something after death. How many spirits have you broken?”
Being the pessimist that he is, Mike presumes this is just a PR stunt and, despite being tempted with an $800 bottle of vintage Bourbon, sticks doggedly to his guns, much to Olin’s mounting frustration. Watching the pair verbally sparring is an absolute joy and Jackson is exquisitely cast as the oily gatekeeper of this particular establishment. However, despite every last attempt to dissuade him, both politely and by hinting at the “furious anger” we all know and love, he fails to deter his stubborn guest and eventually concedes defeat. Round one to Mike then right? Yeah, like fuck. Have you ever heard the term “no smoke without fire”? That would most certainly be applicable where room 1408 is concerned and, as victories go, this one is pretty damn minor.
The very moment he steps foot inside his suite, we feel for Mike, although he isn’t looking for our sympathy and remains both buoyant and utterly dismissive of the dubious residual energy that positively seeps from the walls. From curiously low-key maid service, to scalding tap water, window that swears blind it is a guillotine, and a constantly malfunctioning thermostat, the room begins to play its foul games with his subconscious and Mike does his level best to apply rationale to each of the disturbances. For as much as he resists its “charms” initially, the room clearly has designs on wearing him down and delirium sets in around the time that his alarm clock displays a worrying sixty minute timer and begins its uncompromising countdown, accompanied by Gabriel Yared’s pulsating score.
“You can choose to repeat this hour over and over again, or you can take advantage of our express checkout system.”
This is where room 1408 really begins to reveal its hand as it is fully aware of the grief eating him up inside and uses this against him at every available opportunity. Clad in a tacky Hawaiian shirt, Mike’s stubborn refusal to be beaten into submission carries him so far but, the moment his dead daughter is thrown in as a bargaining tool, we know just how dirty this “evil fucking room” is prepared to stoop in order to get a rise out of him and the air of claustrophobic dread is truly stifling. Granted, things occasionally get a little too literal for its own good, and the scene where his trappings begin to resemble the set from The Poseidon Adventure may appear ill-judged. That said, cinematographer Benoît Delhomme does a grand job of using tilt angles to show Mike as the one who is all at sea and there are few pairs of hands safer than Cusack’s to keep the ship afloat when it appears things may be headed for the rocks.
“He gave me booze! Did he take a sip? I can’t remember. Or maybe it was the chocolate! Don’t take candy from strangers!”
Our beleaguered lead’s turn is quite excellent, which should come as no great surprise given his history of punching all the right buttons. Traditionally the nice guy, it is great to see him play a character so jaded and he takes to the role like a dog with a bone, milking every scene for all it is worth, and affording us exclusive access to his personal head space as the walls close in around him. It is a big ask for Cusack to carry the entire weight of this project on his shoulders, particularly when the lion’s share of dialogue is shared only with himself, but we are powerless not to care for his plight and, while he bears the brunt of each injustice, we’re right there alongside him willing him on to solve this intricate puzzle and find his way out before the room claims yet another victim.
“Even if you leave this room, you can never leave this room!”
Lest we not forget that Håfström’s film is based on the fiction of arguably the greatest literary mind of our time and, for all Cusack’s well-timed histrionics and spiralling madness, he is forced to share top billing with the fixtures and fittings themselves. The titular room oozes consternation throughout and steadily drains our resolve as it bids to leave a lasting imprint on our psyches, succeeding for the most part. Bizarrely the hokey conclusion feels out-of-place and I would urge you to explore the alternative endings instead as each of them sits more comfortably than the one selected for the theatrical cut. But as an exercise in escalating unease, 1408 does more than enough to ensure that our stay is a twitchy one and, complimentary liquor or no complimentary liquor, I sure as shit won’t be checking in at the Dolphin Hotel anytime soon.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10
Dread Factor: 3/5
For the Dread-Heads: Perhaps the greatest compliment I can pay seasoned nightmare maker Håfström (Derailed, The Rite) is that he rarely sinks to the customary jolt shocks to affect his audience and, instead, focuses more on the creeping dread side of things to masterful effect. That said, watching Mike pursued through the poky air vent above his room by a mummified pensioner provided a fair dose of the willies, and the moment where he casts his eyes across the street from his window only to realize that he’s staring straight into a mirrored reflection is priceless. Fans of Lewis Teague’s stellar 1985 anthology Cat’s Eye, another of King’s adaptations, will also appreciate his misjudged escape attempt via the slender ledge outside his penned in purgatory.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of the Crimson Quill
Copyright: Grueheads Films 2017