Friday, October 24, 2014

1408 (2007) 1.5 of 4

I tend to high opinions of movies based on Stephen King, when they get widely praised -- The Dead Zone, Misery, The Green Mile -- and sometimes even when they don't, as with The Shining, Cujo, Dolores Claiborne, and The Mist.  However, this one seemed a gimmicky spook-show to me, with little more inventiveness than the numeric title that suggests just another line in the King's inventory.

** spoilers below **

John Cusack plays a cynical writer who makes a decent living with his non-fiction books that review supposedly haunted places.  He's a hardcore skeptic, giving just enough credence to the paranormal to keep his readers coming back (at a poorly attended book signing, he concedes the "air is thick" at some of these sites).  Mike Enslin is a drinker who looks down on his own readers, but by now Cusack can play the sardonic, media-savvy character in his sleep.
It's maybe halfway through when we learn why Enslin is half an asshole: his kid died of cancer.  We also know that he had a difficult father, the basis of a poor-selling novel written and published in another lifetime ... but this father thread doesn't really pay off.

"1408" is a never-rented room at a once-prestigious Manhattan hotel, The Dolphin.  Enslin's publisher (Tony Shalhoub) applies legal pressure using a "little-known civil rights law" (shades of the housing collapse per Fox News) and Enslin ignores the advice of the hotel's elegant manager Mr. Olin (Samuel L. Jackson), who tells him of the hundreds of deaths, natural and otherwise, in that room.  Once inside, the writer's cockiness is shattered by all manner of weird shit: visions, temperature swings, attacks by ghosts and corpses, apparent time travel, etc.  The room won't let him leave, and the clock radio keeps playing "We've Only Just Begun" by the Carpenters.  Like Olin said, "it's an evil-fucking-room."

These haunts are worth a few scares and chills, being well-mounted with some good special effects, but I found myself not caring: I didn't like Enslin enough to root for him, nor dislike him enough to feel he deserves what's happening to him.  The filmmakers must've been ambivalent, too, because they made a shaggy-dog story that doesn't so much end as -- stop.  The film implies that dad can join daughter in a better place, but that's ambiguous.

Unless I missed something, we also never find out who sent Enslin the postcard warning him about Room 1408, so that's another loose hair, and so is the similarity of his surname to that of the S.L.J. character: Enslin, Olin.  What's in those names?  E-i-e-i-o?  Count me out.  

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