So, I’m currently sitting through the end credits of 1408 and I thought I would share my opinions on the film.
tl;dr – Worth watching, not immediately scary but leaves you with that skin crawling effect any good psychological horror should.
Overall the film is quite good and I enjoyed it, I can certainly see people finding the fear factor they are looking for from it. The film uses little of the sudden fright scare tactics a lot of films use to purvey fear and instead merely documents the protagonist’s decent into madness providing a more psychological thrill.
As the main protagonist it stars John Cusack as Micheal (Mike) Enslin, a ghost myth debunker and writer who visits “haunted” hotel rooms and reviews them in book form. He doesn’t believe in the supernatural and has become quite jaded with his career choice.
The main antagonist of the story is actually just a room, 1408 of the Dolphin Hotel in New York. The room obviously has no ability to act in of itself but from the performances of John Cusack, and the clever use of a clock radio the room’s personification is well executed. It is not until almost at the end of the film the room is revealed to have a voice and this is merely stolen from the front desk receptionist in the form of a room service phone call.
Samuel L Jackson features in a small part as the Dolphin Hotel manager, Gerald Olin. Seen in only 5 scenes I can remember; his performance is exactly what you would expect from Samuel L Jackson. While I am a fan of a lot of his performances, this is usually due to the cast character benefiting from his style. His usual performance I would say neither fits nor misses the role, he is certainly well able to convey his characters convictions about the room and his warning to Micheal. He certainly doesn’t detract from the film but he doesn’t in my opinion add much either, but then in such a small role there is only so much you can do and he does play the part well.
In the run up to the actual stay in 1408 the room is heavily described not as being haunted but that it itself is evil, it is also given a colourful back story of both suicides and natural deaths, including a drowning. When Micheal finally gets to the room everything seems quite normal and continues on for some time as such with Cusack’s character doing his usual routine inspections and note taking on the room.
The first unexplained occurrence is two mints appearing on his pristine bed pillow after he had been just been sitting on it. Quickly following this the toilet roll appears refolded after he had used a piece which Micheal determines is the work of a quick and shifty maid. He hunts for where this maid is hiding but cannot find them. To this point the rooms has seemed quite benign and Micheal remarks that it’s a room haunted by turn down service.
The actual danger begins in the film only after Micheal calls reception to report that his air conditioning doesn’t work. An engineer arrives who will not enter the room and explains how to fix the thermostat. It only seems to be from this action onward that the room takes offence to Micheal and at this point the clock radio is introduced with the alarm function triggering the playing of the Carpenters’ We’ve Only Just Begun. It almost seems like if he had just left it alone and gone about his business the room would have let him go.
Firstly the room slams a window on his hand cutting it quite badly which could be seen as retaliation for turning on the air conditioning. In general from here on out the majority of actions from the rooms seem to be retaliations for mistreatment by Cusack’s character although somewhat amplified in nature. It’s not until near the end of the film that the room seems to be taking the lead.
The clock radio plays the Carpenters for a third time and the display changes from a normal time to a 60 minute countdown. At this point Micheal hints at the fact “no-one has ever lasted more than an hour” and the film becomes at least close to real time on this clock. A series of escalating events happens from then on. Notable events are:
The key to the room is swallowed by the lock and it is clear that Micheal cannot leave the room. This gets further clarified later as the fire escape plan on the door changes from the hotel floor plan to a large black square with just room 1408 and a “You are here” indicator.
Any attempt at contacting the outside world is either a reflection of himself or simply blocked in some way. The only external communication he manages is to contact his estranged wife, which, once he realises no-one who enters can escape, the room uses this to trick his wife into coming to the room.
The drowning case is explained when the ship painting in the room begins to alter and eventually the wall behind it bursts out with sea water transporting Micheal to the wreaked remains of the ship. This transitions through a drowning sequence to an event earlier in the film where a pseudo reality is formed in which the room never even existed and he reconciles with his wife. This reality is literally torn down around him which finally shows him he can never escape the confines of the room.
Multiple scenes from and people from his life are shown to him centering on the slow death of his daughter and him leaving his wife. This is also used in the final minutes of the hour where in a burnt out shell of the room his deceased daughter appears to him and then dies in his arms and turns to ash.
The final few moments of the hour have Micheal throwing around the charred remains of the room in anger with the clock radio struggling to play the Carpenters one last time. Micheal eventually collapses to the ground and looking at the clock as the last few second tick by, the room resets and the clock reads “60:00” and again begins counting down. At this point the phone rings and the room informs him he will have to live out this hour over and over until he kills himself. Finally after having to reflect on his life he chooses to do one last selfless act and burns down the room knowing he will be stuck inside but that no-one else, including his soon to be doomed wife, will ever be condemned to the room.
The film ends with Samuel L Jackson attempting to give the remains of Micheal’s possessions to his wife at the funeral. The wife turns these down and Jackson returns to his car. He opens the box and listens to the tape recording Micheal had been making through out stay and hears the daughters voice on it. Suddenly he sees the charred remains of Micheal in his rear view mirror but turns around for there to be nothing there. This leaves the story somewhat open ended initially as if maybe the malevolence of the room had transferred to the possession or the recording.
The next and final scene shows the view into the burnt out room through the window and shows Micheal strolling around inside the room and the voice of his daughter pulls him away from the window and he fades out in the same manner as he had seen the room’s previous victims. It seems like he is still trapped forever inside the room, possibly in retaliation for stopping it taking another victim it stopped him from dying to trap his soul within or maybe every victim’s soul is still in the room and the suicide only serves to clear out the room for the next as the hours seem to occur consecutively still.
Though the personification of the room is very well done it does only seem to be retaliating for mistreatment until the last 20-25 minutes of the hour rather than actively trying to torture Micheal. A lot of the events seem to be directly attributable to his either purposeful or accidental poor treatment of the room making it seems more like a possessed room with a pet peeve than inherently evil. This run up period feels like it takes too long for me but that is part of a psychological horror rather than a hack and slash and maybe that extended almost calm period makes the stronger events in the second half that much more effective.
While Micheal is in the room there is a large usage of foreshadowing of the future events, including his own death. I would guess I missed some of this on my first watch through which would suggest it features quite heavily. No doubt within the room’s concept this serves to further torture the victims and to get them to kill themselves in less cycles.
John Cusack’s performance is nicely convincing and well complemented by the artistic choices and special effects to produce the non-existent second main character, 1408. The film suffers slightly from a lack of pace during the middle of the hour in the room but picks up rapidly towards the end but this hasn’t stopped it giving me a feeling of the walls watching me that I’m still having to shake off and hour later.
I doubt I will watch this film again off my own back, I can’t claim it’s the greatest film ever, but it is certainly worth watching and I would recommend it and watch it again if someone asked for a horror film in an evening.