Notable ghost hunter and novelist Mike Enslin (John Cusack) is a traveler in search of paranormal activity, specializing in hotels which claim to be haunted. Although he admits to the four person audience at his book signing that he’d give anything to have a real paranormal experience, he is a compassionate disbeliever of “ghoulies and ghosties”. Nevertheless, he is determined to discover evidence of life after death, a zealous objective since the passing of his young daughter.
All Work and No Play...After receiving a rather cryptic postcard in the mail from the Dolphin Hotel in New York City with the message “Don’t go in room 1408”, he travels to the big apple to lodge in said room. Even though the hotel manager (Samuel L. Jackson) gives our protagonist a desperate warning to stay out, Mike brushes off his advice and enters. After strutting about the room, he spends about five minutes ranting into his tape recorder, going on a diatribe filled with sarcasm and skepticism.
But the malevolent room turns out to be no walk in the park; almost immediately, poltergeist-like scares start to flourish, and Mike takes off running for the door. When the handle breaks off, trapping him inside, the hauntings begin to get far more intense. Soon, it becomes clear that this ordinary looking room is not only overflowing with paranormal activity, but in fact a gateway into another dimension; one that’s filled with evil and despair.
One Man Show
John Cusack, one of the most underrated actors in the business, is a particularly unique performer. Not only is his stage presence consistently delightful to watch, but he also possesses a solid acting range that puts most A-list celebrities to shame. He once again proves his ability to carry a film completely on his own, as he did in High Fidelity and the classic Better Off Dead. Being the sole character for 70% of a film can’t be easy, and with a different actor, I think this horror flick wouldn’t have been nearly as tolerable.
Sam Jackson, who is billed second next to Cusack for his five-minute role, provides his usual sub-par performance, expectedly raising his voice and widening his eyes every other line. And what role played by this Snakes on a Plane star could be complete without his chestnut F-bomb?
Based on a short story by Stephen King, who is clearly running out of ideas, the film was adapted by three high-concept screenwriters who borrowed heavily from other films. This horror flick does have its moments, but there is never anything new about them.
6 Degrees of “Borrowed” Separation
The chief shortcoming of 1408, something that has been plaguing most topical horror films, is an overabundance of recycled concepts with equally plagiaristic scare-devices. Paying homage to a film is one thing; ripping off a number of clever plot ideas from a large cinematic base is another. With such an excessive amount of look-alike scenes and familiar situations, I wager I could get to Kevin Bacon in six moves or less using only actors that have been in thrillers ripped off by 1408.
- 1. Cusack was in The Thin Red Line with Adrien Brody (in the confined delirium Brody faces during The Jacket, there’s an almost precise alternate reality that Mike undergoes with literal interchanging character appearances).
- 2. Brody scored himself an Oscar in The Pianist, a film made by genius-pedophile Roman Polanski (the scene where Mike observes a double of himself through a window directly across from the hotel is blatantly stolen from Polanski’s The Tenant).
- 3. Years earlier, Polanski took a swipe at Jack Nicholson’s nose in Chinatown.
- 4. The latter was in The Shining, written for the screen and directed by Stanley Kubrick (another paranormal-hotel horror film adapted from a King story including far too many parallels with 1408 to count).
- 5. Kubrick made Full Metal Jacket with Vincent D’Onofrio (villain in The Cell, a thriller which also featured paintings coming life and attacking the main character).
- 6. And D’Onofrio was in JFK, starring Kevin Bacon (as the protagonist of Stir of Echoes, Bacon is also a victim of perpetual flashbacks and apparitions, including a mirrored scene that features a bloody injury and bathroom sink). Phew!
Granted, most films have some sort of distant similarity with each other. In fact, I bet some of the things I mentioned above are taken from an even earlier design; it’s rare to witness an authentically original thought in modern art. But the déjà vu that I got watching this film became exasperating. A reused idea holds no value if nothing fresh is included to drive our minds away from the original source.
Cusack gives another spectacular performance, one that is worth the price of admission, but there wasn’t enough in 1408 to distract me from recognizing what I’ve already seen before.