John Cusack in 1408 Movie

1408 Movie Review: A Harrowing Film Bereft of Gore

There is more than one way to describe this film. Unusual, intriguing, terrifying, or surreptitiously emotional. The best version, though, is relentless psychological horror. 1408 plays so much with your mind, somewhat messes it badly, that you feel the fear of the protagonist to your bones.

Ingeniously written & directed, it grabs your attention from the opening shot and firmly builds up the intrigue through captivating dialogues and a fantastic lead performance from John Cusack.

Playing Mike Enslin, Cusack’s character is a writer of ghost stories. His work incorporates thorough research and examination of the real-life haunted places, for he doesn’t believe in ghosts or gods. For the same reason, he doesn’t like interacting with people to avoid hearing tall tales of what might be merely a scientific occurrence.

Voice Recorder 1408 Movie

Instead, he prefers to speak for his recorder, which he carries everywhere for describing his observations and experiences, which he would later use for writing.

“We are here to do a job, and we don’t rattle.”

His books, identically titled to one another, speak of his numerous ghostly adventures undertaken to experience an actual supernatural occurrence, for he wishes to give his readers something special. 

10 Haunted Hotels, 10 Haunted Mansions, 10 Haunted Graveyards, and so on. His books precisely appeal to what youngsters like to read at night. Yet, what he gets most appreciated for is not the spree of his hair-raising adventures, but an earlier work, a fictional tale of a father and son, which apparently reflects his own doubtful relations. 

One afternoon, Enslin finds an anonymous post-card on his mailbox that warns him of the room 1408, in New York’s Dolphin Hotel. Tempted to inquire, Enslin calls the hotel for booking the same room but gets multiple denials. Sure of discovering a publicity stunt disguised as a tale of a ghostly existence, Elsin checks-in to the hotel through a federal civil rights law, stating hotels can be booked without constraint if otherwise fully occupied.

At the Dolphin, he is welcomed, somewhat intruded by the manager, Gerald Olin (a fantastic Samuel L. Jackson), who attempts every trick and bribe to change his mind from staying in 1408 – though, fails in doing so. What follows is bone-chilling terror as Mike steps into the room and confronts an inhuman force, unlike any other he had ever thought of encountering in his life.

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1408 – Book Vs. Film

Dolphin Hotel New York

The film is an adaptation of a short story written by Stephen King. It first appeared in the year 1999 in Blood & Smoke, an audiobook comprising three short stories. Years later, it was included in a more elaborative collection of King’s short stories titled Everything’s Eventual.

Three writers are credited for penning the screenplay, and they have done a great job. King’s original work had no backstory of the protagonist. It was plainly focused on the idea of a person, who is a disbeliever of spirits and souls getting stuck in an evil room. Amazingly, the film stretches his story into a complete whole that ameliorates it by a significant margin.

The entire first act and a major chunk of the third act are new. The screenwriters have fabricated a compelling story that adds considerable weight to the middle segment, which is ideally adapted from King’s work.

Highly Effective, Relentless Scares 

Stephen King is the master of horror stories, and 1408 is easily one of his best. The idea is so novel and hard-hitting that you will think twice before staying at such premises as depicted in the film. Even without blood and gore, the scares are highly effective and almost relentless.

John Cusack 1408

Following the 30-minutes mark, there is no end to the terrifying moments as they come one after the other, giving no time to relax. The horror is heightened by John Cusack’s amazing performance. He is the only person you see in the film, for the most part, and his multifaceted acting keeps you on the edge of your seat.

His performance is equally funny, terrifying, and even heartfelt at times, that makes you care for his character as you desire for a happy ending, which, by the way, is very strangely done. There are 4 different endings to the film – one theatrical, one director’s cut, and the others, alternate versions. This review is written for the director’s cut, which, in my opinion, is the finest of all 4, with the most fulfilling finish.

Great Subtlety in the Production and Storytelling

Benoît Delhomme 1408 cinematography

On a budget of $25 Million, the film is made with great subtlety, for it maintains (mostly!) continuity of what is shown on screen and makes the most of what is provided on the script. This is a beautiful looking film that deploys excellent outdoor shots and handles indoor scenes of the hotel very well, especially since the interior of the room is supposed to change continuously.

There are a couple of noticeable continuity errors, which do not bother much for there could have been even more, given the structure of the story, but are well taken care of. The supplementary writing done over the source material is also very meaningful.

John Cusack Mary McCormack Movie

The film encapsulates themes of dealing with mental trauma, and the fear of dying alone. The latter is a legitimately scarier thought that is depicted very well in the film. It’s these themes that blend seamlessly with the original story, which makes 1408 a unique experience in the horror genre.

It’s funny, it’s terrifying, but most importantly, it is an original story that leaves a lasting impression, even after 13 years of its release that makes you rewatch it after a particular time, for you can not forget its effectiveness in creating psychological tension and reminding yourself the versatility of John Cusack as an actor.

1408 is available for streaming on Prime Video, with the said director’s cut. See the trailer below.

Rating: 4 / 5

Have you seen 1408? Do you think it is one of the best adaptations of Stephen King’s novels? Share your thoughts below in the comments section.

Mayank Nailwal
Passionate about films & filmmaking since 2002.
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