Wednesday, October 20, 2010

'1408' is a spectacular spook show!

1408 (2007)
Starring: John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Mary MacCormack, and Jasmine Jessica Anthony
Director: Mikael Haafstroem
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

A jaded paranormal investigator (Cusack) meets his match when he confronts the evil that dwells in Room 1408.

"1408" is the best ghost/haunted house movie in at least a decade. The acting is top-notch. Enslin starts out as a somewhat unlikeable cynic, but as he lives through his night of terror and emotional anguish brought on by whatever evil exists in Room 1408, John Cusack's fantastic range as an actor brings the audience firmly on his side, rooting for him to defeat the room. Cusack goes from amsused, to angry, to terrified, to heartbroken, to resigned to his fate, and back again, never seeming as if he's hamming it up or overacting. Cusack's utterly believable peformance draws the viewers in, and transmits the terror straight to us.

Similarly, Samuel L. Jackson actually gives a performance in this film that doesn't involve chewing up the scenery. He is likewise perfectly believable in his part--playing it somewhat understated, yet sincere. The scene he shares with Cusack are well played, because by the time it's over, the audience is convinced that the hotel manager isn't trying to scam Enslin so his hotel gets a write-up... he sincerely believes Room 1408 is haunted by an evil presence.

I've read a couple of reviews where the critics complain that there's nothing new in this film, that it's just another ghost movie. Those critics are morons. There isn't supposed to be anything "new" in this very traditional ghost story. What they should have noticed (although I wonder if one of those reviewers even saw the film... I've suspected him of working purely off press kits before) is how perfectly all the traditional elements are deployed and used... and how, for the first time in entirely too long, this is a horror movie from a major releasing company that is driven by the performances of the actors and the carefully orchestrated unfolding and worsening of the haunting rather than merely being an excuse to toss together a bunch of CGI monsters or lame scares OR build-ups that don't actually result in anything.

"1408" works because every promise of something strange or terrifying pays off... and sometimes pays off in somewhat unexpected ways. But it all happens within the standards of a traditional ghost story. The film even ends on a strong note, because it avoids the "shock scare" at the end that has become so commonplace that in most cases it's more irritating than frightening. Instead, this film ends on a supremely creepy note that is probably more horrifying and heartbreaking for Enslin than anything up to that point.

Although I can't rave enough about how exciting it is to finally see a decent ghost movie again, "1408" isn't quite perfect.

There is a point where it appears as if Enslin has escaped from the room that goes on just a bit too long. The filmmakers give us some early hints that it's a trick the Room is playing, but instead of moving swiftly to what is obvious to the viewer (if not to Enslin), he continues the sequence. Fortunately, what follows is more horrorfying than what went before, so the film recovers nicely from a near-stumble, and it's only true weak point.

"1408" is a great adaptation of a Stephen King short story, and it's a must-see for anyone who loves a good, traditional haunted house movie. It's the best one of the decade just passed.

No comments:

Post a Comment