Despite the fact that “1408” has a number of things going for it – primarily perma-hero John Cusack – it still manages to completely fall apart at the exact moment when it needs to blow your mind.
Instead, “1408” is comparable to films like “Event Horizon” or even the lesser “Skeleton Key,” films that start with character based foundations and then hit a point in the script where the dialogue becomes a series of nonlinguistic reactions to an endless series of horror gags. Or, as in the case of “Key” they just lose their footing two-thirds of the way in. Theproblem with this type of film is that at some point “scary” gets substituted for character. The fear and tension of “Jaws” has little to do with the monster and nearly everything to do with the reactions and humanity of the people you’ve grown to care about. And, in the case of “Jaws” some really great music.
“1408” begins with a decent idea and a three-dimensional character. Author Mike Enslin (Cusack) is a ghost story writer, who we later find out began penning haunted house books after the death of his only daughter. Enslin is broken and beyond skeptical about the paranormal activities his investigations have all but proven don’t exist. A mysterious postcard arrives with an ominous warning not to go into room “1408” at the Dolphin Hotel in New York City. Of course he does.
The varying shades of John Cusack are one of Hollywood’s most endearing assets. Cusack plays Enslin as dry, ironic and not nice, and yet we still root for him. There is an instant emotional connection to Enslin because of Cusack’s performance and its easy to want him to come out on top. The aspects of the film that put the ball in Cusack’s capable hands work, those that make him a generic “guy-in-a-scary-movie” don’t.
“1408” is based on a Stephen King story. King has proven time and time again that he has a killer imagination and he knows how to construct character and circumstance that are ripe for film interpretations. However, for every 1 page of a King novel that scares the blanket over your face with the lights off, there are ten pages of partially-baked filler. “1408” gets the good pages in the first act and then all we get through to the end is that other stuff.