1408. 2007

Director: Mikael Hafstrom

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

An author derailed from early promise makes a fair living writing crappy tourist guides with titles like 10 Haunted Hotels or 10 Haunted Graveyards. He's never experienced a real ghost & would like to, but doesn't expect ever to do so.

1408Ah, but he's about to experience room 1408 (2007), as lame a movie title as can be imagined. By its title 1408 could've been a prisoner's number, or the year some Archbishop did this or that at Oxford, but by no means evoking a haunted room.

He learns room 1408 is a "real" haunted room, but he doesn't believe in that one either. But a job's a job, so he sets out to do the standard research for another book chapter.

He's right away surprised the Bed & Breakfast doesn't want to speak of it, since most B&Bs have trumped up moronic ghost stories for sake of free publicity, knowing perfectly well it's all just a fraud to delight tourists.

He's refused access to the room, which is no longer ever rented to anyone; they don't want any publicity relating to that room. His agent has to threaten to sue the small hotel's manager (Samuel Jackson doing good work padding out a slim tale), a threat that finally gets our hero into the room.

The manager warns him off with deeply worried conviction, but our author's committed to selling "spook house bullshit" & certainly can't take warnings of "real" spooks seriously, even if the documentation for 56 deaths since 1912 in Room 1408 is pretty impressive.

Soon enough he learns the supernatural is real. He's momentarily delighted. But almost as quickly, he's genuinely scared, & ready to leave. Alas, the room's got him now, & won't let go.

1408Nothing original happenings, but John Cussak as Mike the bad writer is a fine actor, & he makes as much as can be made of every cliche in the book about a haunted room.

The film becomes mostly a one-man-show inside the room, & had it been a half-hour episode of The Twilight Zone circa 1959 it would've been great. As a well-budgeted feature film it has nothing to it a low-budget shocker couldn't've done as well or better.

It requires Mike to pass through every emotional state, which amounts to cartoon truculance, cartoon sadness, & the patented Home Alone grabbing of the sides of the head. It's an entire "actor's flash cards" set of hammed responses to the varied incidents & manifestations that flip by.

These incidents & manifestations do not relate to anything specific, do not lend clues to understanding the room or its history. Everything is totally random & seemingly made up as it goes along.

Mike watches ghostly reenactments, is visited by a dead child, is assaulted by the window, assaulted by some noise, ducks standard whirling-objects poltergeist FX, experiences extremes of temperatures up to & including indoor weather phenomena, deals with the shifting content & layout of the rooms, & so on & so forth ad absurdum.

For story structure, it's one that Stephen King uses a lot, pretty much one character in one place, which I'd describe as "story about a man with a duck stuck in his ass coping, alone, acting out all the ramifications of having a duck stuck in one's ass."

Mike in his eagerness to get out of the room goes out on the window ledge to replay a scene from another Stephen King film, Cat's Eye (1985), from the episode "The Ledge." Mike barely makes it back in the room alive, only to start anew the variety of whatever can be made up next.

It's all just way too "authorly" a game, way too close to the the duck-in-ass methodology. It never ceases to be a matter of "what else can I make happen to one guy alone in a haunted room." They left out walking up the walls or on the ceiling, blood dripping out of cracked in wall, or a black hole leading to where Cthulhu sleeps, so write your own variation, they all fit equally well with equal lack of significance.

Then this slick but awful movie trucks out the worst kind of cop-out when Mike wakes up & it was all a dream. The story is so loose & pointless with no forward momentum or structure that really it's a matter of just about anything could happen in any order. So waking from the dream needn't be real either, the story can at any moment come to a screeching halt, back up, & with a big "never mind!" take some other route after all.

Having no logical direction for the tale means the story belongs to the FX crew, not to an actor who couild probably have done great work in a decent script. Just anything could be tacked onto the end with equal meaning or lack of meaning. In a veritable marathon of nutty ideas for a climax, it crams in so much nonsense that none of it matters one whit.

So the dream is real, & the happy ending is real, except never mind, he's still in the room suffering the torture of hope, or he's in a madhouse & not in that room at all, or he's a ghost rather than a living guy trapped in the room, or the room got destroyed & doesn't actually exist, or it's a perfectly decent room if only he weren't haunting it, & so on & so forth &mp ho hum, until at long last the film just ends with a piff instead of a bang.

It's all random jibberish & has no real emotional impact. A ride at Carny Land through the Tunnel of Halloween Mischief would blessedly last only three minutes with about as much value.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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