1408 Mikael Håfström

1408 Mikael Håfström
Stephen King is such a bankable name in the entertainment industry that he’s now being used to sell the new Ryan Adams record (he wrote the bio). That said, it’s no wonder there are so many movies floating around with the tagline "Based on a story by Stephen King.”

Of course, it’s always a little more suspicious when it’s a "short story” by the best-selling author, largely because the man seems able to pump out such a thing within a few minutes, given his ability to put his thoughts onto paper (and I’m sure for the right amount of money). 1408 is one of these shorts, as well as yet another story using a writer as the protagonist/victim, a role King seems to get a kick out of.

John Cusack stars as Mike Enslin, a California-based author of haunted travel guides who scours the world looking for "paranormal" hotels to report on. The film begins with a dud case at a B&B and next demonstrates the gruelling tedium of a bookstore appearance. Mike then receives a mysterious postcard for the Dolphin Hotel with the words "Do go in room 1408” written on it. Intrigued, he travels to New York City — a city, we learn, where he once lived and has since abandoned because of his daughter’s death — in order to investigate the room.

Mike is met with resistance by the hotel’s manager Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson), who tries to dissuade him from entering the room by showing him grizzly evidence that no one has ever lasted more than an hour in 1408. "It’s an evil fucking room,” Olin says, but the stubborn writer decides to "Encyclopedia Brown this bitch,” therein setting up one hell of a night.

As with many of King’s stories, the evil within room 1408 is as much from Mike’s imagination as the room itself. He sees ghosts of past guests offing themselves, suffers hypothermia when the room goes arctic, nearly drowns after a painting of the sea leaks into the room and, you guessed it, his little girl comes back to toy with his emotions. She eventually turns to ash and Mike is thrown around in a heavy display of CGI fuckery, leaving both Mike and the viewer in a complete whirlwind of special effects-heavy psychosis. Even when the ending hits — for what feels like the third time — you’re unsure if it’s actually the end.

Cusack invests a lot of energy into Mike, showing off his skill for playing the smug cynic, but while there’s little there to empathise with he undergoes such gruesome torture that his transformation into a believer is both subtly achieved and enjoyable to watch. However, while King’s always been the master of chilling spines with 1408 it feels like the big moments designed to mess with your senses are purely post-production wizardry.

Whatever additional text was added to this short story to give it its feature length was no doubt filler, for in the patchy world of King adaptations, 1408 isn’t at the bottom but in the middle, where most of his forgettable work lies. (Alliance Atlantis)