Tuesday, 4 September 2007

1408 (Mikael Hafstrom, 2007)

I've seen an awful lot of Stephen King adaptations over the years. Some of them (Stanley Kubrick's 1980 horror masterpiece 'The Shining' for example,) are simply brilliant. Others (such as Mick Garris's 1997 TV miniseries 'The Shining') are, well, not. If all these movies were set out in a line, from absolute worst to absolute best, (and believe me, I'm tempted to try this); 1408 would probably come out somewhere just over half-way. You could say it's nowhere near as good as The Shining; on the other hand, it's an awful lot better than... The Shining.

At first glance, the premise seems worryingly familiar. Troubled writer Mike Enslin (John Cusack) is a bit morose and sorry for himself. Probably because, being a writer in a Stephen King story, he's a bit of a stereotype. And because he has a mysteriously troubled family background, about which he will never speak. No, Mr Enslin would rather spend his time telling everyone he meets that he doesn't believe in ghosts. Which seems a slightly self-destructive career move for a man who makes his living writing guides to America's most haunted places However, Enslin's eyes are well and truly opened when he spends a night in a hotel room that is, for want of a better word, a bit evil.

For the first hour or so, this film is actually far better than the premise suggests. In fact, it's bordering on awesome. The performances from Cusack and the (tragically underused) Samuel L. Jackson are solid, while the atmosphere and pacing lead to some scares that are genuinely unsettling. It's rare nowadays to see a Hollywood horror movie that relies on suggestion and the build-up of tension to deliver its scares and sadly, about half-way through, the studio appears to have realised this and bottled out.

The second half of the film, then, falls back on the usual noughties horror staples of loud noises, over-the-top effects and plot twists so incomprehensible they had the audience blinking at each other in disbelief. That's not to say it's dreadful, merely disappointing.

Overall, 1408 is a pretty watchable movie. Great performances by Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson, coupled with atmosphere, tension and some genuinely scary moments make for an entertaining watch. With a better-developed plot and a more satisfying conclusion, it could have been as good as, well, The Shining.

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