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Stripped of unnecessary gore and predictable scare tactics, 1408 is a chilling psychological mind-bender, which stays true to its Stephen King roots.


Adapted from a King short story, 1408 centers on renowned author Mike Enslin (John Cusack), who writes books about haunted places—houses, hotels, graveyards, etc. He doesn't believe in any of the mumbo jumbo, since he hasn't ever seen anything paranormal, but he is happy to cash the checks anyway. When Enslin finds out about a haunted suite, number 1408, at the notorious Dolphin Hotel in New York, he does some research and discovers it indeed has had a grisly past. He decides he just has to stay there, much to the chagrin of the hotel's manager (Samuel L. Jackson), who hasn't let anyone near the room in years. Anyone whose been in the room for more than an hour kills themselves, you see. The manager tells Mike it isn't necessarily because he cares about him, he just doesn't want to clean up the mess afterwards. But Mike is undeterred—and so sets out on the longest journey of what could be his short life.


Save for the tense exposition scene between him and the always-good Jackson, it's mostly Cusack's show—and he nails it. He displays that certain affability we've loved in films such as Serendipity but then demonstrates some real chops when it gets down to the nitty gritty, adeptly alternating between jaded cynicism, bewilderment, bereavement and finally full-blown terror. See, the room isn't just a place where ghosts materialize and de-materialize. Its pure evil and manifests itself into whatever personal turmoil the occupant is going through at the time. For Mike, this means reliving the death of his young daughter (Jasmine Jessica Anthony) and his further estrangement from his wife, played convincingly by Mary McCormack (The West Wing). In Cusack's capable hands, Mike is one tortured soul, but can he be strong enough to survive the odds?


It's not an easy thing to turn a Stephen King story into a movie. John Cusack aptly puts it in the production notes, "I don't know how he knows how to scare people so intensely, or where those impulses come from, but King is definitely channeling some spirits and demons." Boy, does he ever, but as his loyal readers know, his horror doesn't necessarily mean gore (although his books do have that stuff in spades). In fact, much of the terror King's characters experience happen right inside their own heads, which is frightening to read but really hard to translate to film—and many filmmakers have failed at it, with exception to Rob Reiner, who got it right with Misery. Now, along with Reiner, there's Swedish director Mikael Hafstrom (Derailed), who understands how to take King's internalizations in 1408 and bring them chillingly to the forefront, with little to no CG effects or gimmicks. Rather, the director plays with the audience, making them guess whether they are watching real ghosts or just what's happening inside Mike's psyche. Hafstrom says he hopes viewers will wonder, "What would happen to me in 1408?" I wouldn't want to find out, that's for sure.

Bottom Line rated this film 3 1/2 stars.