Mike Enslin is a supernatural writer who devotes his life to exploration of haunted places and proving if the legends are real. His job is of second importance, because the selling of his ‘Top 10 Most Haunted…' series doesn't reach extremely high results. Still, he treats it as a way to earn for a living. One day, he receives a postcard in which the sender denotes a high paranormal activity from the room 1408 in The Dolphin Hotel located in NYC. What is more, all the people that spent a single night in it, have died in mysterious circumstances. This myth doesn't scare Enslin and he decides to solve the riddle of the room 1408. Little did he know, the room will bring out his worst fears. Locked in a small hotel apartment, Enslin will have to fight for his life with an unknown force.
Just give me the key! Listen, I stayed... at the Bixby House. I brushed my goddamn teeth right next to the tub where Sir David Smith drowned his whole family, and I stopped being afraid of vampires when I was 12. Do you know why I can stay in your spooky old room, Mr. Olin? Because I know that ghoulies and ghosties and long-legged beasties... don't exist. And even if they did, there's no God to protect us from them, now is there?
The movie has come from a collaboration of two American scriptwriters and a Swedish director. Although, this is not Hafstrom's first partnership with Hollywood moviemakers. After the Oscar-winner Ondskan (Evil), he was invited to direct a movie adaptation of James Siegel's novel "Derailed". The film appeared to be a complete failure however, it was very well made in technical aspects. Hafstrom didn't give up and did his best in creating 1408 to show that he is as good as Nimród Antal was in Vacancy.
Gerald Olin: The causes of death in 1408 range from heart attack, stroke, drowning.
Mike Enslin: Drowning?
Gerald Olin: Yes, one Mr. Grady Miller drowned in his chicken soup.
Partially, he succeeded. In terms of constructing a thrilling atmosphere, the film is a genuine masterpiece. Hafstrom makes references to some older King's novels and combines it with modern cinematic experience. You just can't get out of the feeling that you're watching a newer version of The Shining. Actually, all of this makes sense - the hotel surroundings, the haunted place, history of murders, even the hero's slowly evolving insanity is familiar. It's like a self-made cliché, only this time tighten to a one single room (redrum?).
If we think of it more, the only difference lays between the main protagonists. Jack Torrance's menace resulted in becoming a ‘slasher' anti-hero killing machine, while Mike Enslin's madness is connected with his skeptical approach towards the supernatural and, at the end, a struggle to win back his life. What is more interesting, Hafstrom's low budget on 1408 appeared as an important factor of developing an atmosphere full of suspense and terror. Just like in the best thrillers (Phone Booth, Saw), the idea of isolation and claustrophobic places makes the whole thing quite mystical and exciting.
Hafstrom squeezed out of the story the best he could and concentrated on the image of Enslin. The Shining wouldn't be a gripping experience if it wasn't for Jack Nicholson's role. The same thing occurs in 1408. The main character is played by John Cusack and his evolving fury can't be compared to Nicholson, but still is made at a very decent level. This is actually a one-man-movie. Even Samuel L. Jackson's appearance is rather a guest featuring than a very important role, but in the end, we find this experiment successful.
The one thing that can make you dissatisfied is the script. Many Polish viewers and critics indicate that it's illogical and doesn't do the trick. On the contrary, the Americans find it acceptable and many reviewers note that they haven't seen a better horror movie this year. I mostly agree with the US approach. The script is actually very good. The menace of Enslin is connected with personal experience (the early death of his daughter) and the room 1408 is trying to convert him and signify to change his life. As it is John Cusack's life role, the hero he plays is firmly created on a psychological level. And although the story borrows many elements from modern horrors (The Amityville Horror, The Sixth Sense, Dark Water), it isn't so noticeable to make some cruel comparisons.
They say you can't die in your dreams... is that true?
In conclusion, the movie is an impressive study of fear for those who appreciate atmosphere more than gore or special effects. Hafstrom rehabilitated himself since the failure of Derailed, even if he has just came to a prepared set with a finished script. Still, 1408 is a good Hollywood picture. Stephen King can be proud of such productions instead of doing his own television versions of some novels, which appear to be boring and difficult to watch.