A messy room
By John DeSando, WCBE's It's Movie Time
"Hotel from hell," "roach motel," "flea bag" and on and on to describe an accommodation that didn't meet our minimum requirements for a good night's sleep. Mikael Hafstrom's 1408 fits all descriptors and some movies as well such as Psycho, Hostel, Vacancy, and Bug. The titular number refers to the room no one is allowed to use at NYC's Dolphin Hotel (perhaps based on an infamous room at San Diego's Hotel del Coronado). As the manager, Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson), warns, "It's a fuckin' evil room."
It's Stephen King territory all right: Famous debunking-ghost-stories writer Mike Enslin (John Cusack, having inn problems as he did in Identity, 2003) visits the room, after hammering the management to let him in, to write about it as another in a line of fictional horror homes. As with The Shining, disbelievers should become believers, in this case within an hour?no one has ever lasted more, including the over 50 deaths since the early 20th century.
But clich?d horrors like bleeding walls and uncontrollable hot water faucets are just part of the complex world of this genre. Enslin's loss of a daughter preys on his memory and becomes real in the miasma of the chamber, where what's real and imagined are never clearly defined, resting on the genre staple of the mad mind mirroring the mad hell outside. In effect the story certifies ghosts if you minimally accept the presence of departed loved ones in our minds.
After a haunting exposition with some deafening silence and a spirited argument between Enslin and Olin worth seeing, the plot devolves into clich?s about madness made visible through genre staples. The twists at the end aren't up to the similarly eerie Sixth Sense, but Cusack and Jackson are worth watching.
Like the 13th floor, room 1408 should be the one to avoid if you have a choice. The movie 1408 is not as scary as you hoped, but it sure is a messy room. So much for maid service.
John DeSando teaches film at Franklin University and co-hosts WCBE 90.5's It's Movie Time, which can be heard streaming at www.wcbe.org Fridays at 3:01 pm and 8:01 pm and on demand anytime. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.RR.com