Director Mikael Håfström, John Cusack (Mike Enslin), Mary McCormack (Lily Enslin), Samuel L Jackson (Gerald Olin, hotel manager). Rating: US PG-13 / UK 15
Mike Enslin told his wife he was “goin’ out for some cigarettes”. He didn’t come back. Instead he gave up smoking and embarked on a book, “Ten Nights in Ten Haunted Hotel Rooms”, beginning each night by placing an unlit cigarette in the ashtray before rendering another dull night in sparklingly cynical prose. So a hotel room that’s seen 56 paranormally-induced deaths since 1912 – excluding deaths from natural causes, ie strokes and heart attacks – sounds like an ideal final chapter.
So far John Cusack plays to type, selfish, wisecracking loser, but then the alarm clock radio bursts into The Carpenters’ “We’ve only just begun” and starts counting down from 60 minutes. “No guest lasts more than an hour,” Mike Enslin helpfully repeats the hotel manager’s warning. The tension racks up as escape routes are closed off and we’re left with the claustrophobic room of Mike Enslin’s headspace. If you prefer blood and gore, wait for Rob Zombie’s remake of “Hallowe’en”. If you like being scared, check into room 1408. John Cusack makes it watchable as he moves from cynicism, being startled, scared, grief-stricken to almost relief as the hour counts down towards its close (of course there’s a twist, but I’m giving it away). The horrors aren’t random. Mike Enslin thoughtfully packs a night-vision Luma-lite which reveals blood-splatters from previous guests and we get to see how some of them used the “express check out service”. But we also learn why he left his wife. Anyone familiar with Stephen King’s work may guess the ending, but John Cusack makes you root for him as 1408 imposes its final choice.
The tension does dissipate as Mikael Håfström takes us out of the room on a red herring, conveniently signalled by the colour red. But John Cusack, who once commented that a good film stays with him “like a fever dream for a long time afterwards”, would be justified in feeling that fever dream. A welcome addition to the horror oeuvre.