It’s nice to know Stephen King is still fuelling the horror film industry. The Mist is due in Australia January ’08, ‘Nightmares and Dreamscapes’ was filmed in my home town of Melbourne and 1408 has just appeared in cinemas.
King’s novellas and short stories tend to make the best films. Whilst there are exceptions (Misery, The Shining), the overlong and waffling nature of his novels often means screenwriters have the tough job of cutting out extraneous material without altering the soul of the narrative. Genius William Goldman may have been at the helm of the Dreamcatcher screenplay, but that didn’t stop it from being utterly ridiculous and more than a little confounding. With 1408, screenwriters Matt Greenberg, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski might not have had that much to work with, but the story fills out 104 minutes nicely.
To be frank, 1408 isn’t brilliant. Its main flaw is a lack of any real overarching theme to bring it all together. Perhaps Shyamalan-like climactic simplicity has spoilt the thriller genre for me, but the story on its own doesn’t have any particular impact. Mike Enslin (John Cusack) long ago gave up writing good fiction, instead making his money by giving haunted buildings write-ups in a series of pulp collections. He’s the ultimate unbeliever, and the audience knows from the get-go that room 1408 in the Dolphin Hotel is bound to test his cynicism.
The pacing of the film is great, and Mikael Håfström’s (Derailed) direction is pitch-perfect. The scene where Mike first meets hotel manager Olin (Samuel L. Jackson) is a fantastic battle of wills, and one that reminds us just how good Jackson is, no matter how faulty his crap-o-meter may be. Once we step inside the room, the spooky shenanigans start out slowly but begin to get weirder very quickly. There are a couple of false steps – moments that perhaps betray re-edits, but for the most part the film hits each beat perfectly. Refreshingly, this is a modern horror film that isn’t a: gory, or b: grungy. This is clean, freaky and above all fun horror. The film is perfectly shot, also – no mean feat when you consider that so much time is spent in such a limited space.
Cusack is responsible for making this potentially average film so great. He strikes the perfect balance as Mike – he may be an old cynic, but he certainly approaches each gig with some sort of hope. Most importantly, he’s an intelligent victim – not once does he do anything stupid. That Cusack spends the majority of the film talking to himself (and doing it well) is the ultimate proof of his abilities. For each trashy film he’s done (America’s Sweethearts, Must Love Dogs), there’s a brilliant one (Being John Malkovich, High Fidelity), and in 1408 mainstream box office fodder actually merges with quality filmmaking.Rating: