Dir: Mikael Hafstrom. US. 2007. 94mins.
Pitched as summer counter-programming but arriving in the midst of a glut of underperforming horror releases, 1408 is a spooky Stephen King adaptation given an extra touch of class by leads John Cusack and Samuel L Jackson and Swedish director Mikael Hafstrom.
The Dimension Films chiller could make a small mark at the box office by catering to older trad horror fans, but in the era of torture porn like Hostel, Saw and Captivity it's in danger of being regarded as a quaint anomaly by the genre's younger core audience.
Weinstein Co distribution partner MGM opens the film wide in North America this weekend, putting it up against comedy sequel Evan Almighty. In current conditions, 1408 will be lucky to match the $48m grossed domestically in 2004 by Secret Window, the best performing King adaptation since the author's biggest movie ever, 1999's The Green Mile.
Distributors in international markets (in which Secret Window took $45m) who have acquired rights from Weinstein are mostly set to open the film through August, September and October. But with US horror having an even harder time internationally than domestically the later dates might not do much to increase 1408's box office potential.
Mike Enslin (Cusack) is a likeably cynical author whose books have discredited reports of paranormal events in some of the country's most famous haunted houses. An anonymous tip leads him to room 1408 in a grand old New York hotel and, despite the warnings of the hotel manager (Jackson) about a string of grisly deaths behind that particular door, Mike checks in for the night.
The room, though, soon turns nasty, trapping Mike in a nightmare peopled by his own demons.
Hafstrom (who made his English language debut with the thriller Derailed) and scriptwriters Matt Greenberg (Reign Of Fire) and Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (Ed Wood) prove adept at turning what is essentially a one-set, one-character piece (based on a 2002 King short story) into a watchable yarn.
The always watchable Cusack and Jackson are at their best in the film's early, relatively jokey sequences, especially the head-to-head encounter when Mike's disbelief meets the manager's grisly tales.
Later, the film starts to feel (and look a little) like a chamber version of King's The Shining, with Mike becoming increasingly deranged as the malevolence in the walls starts to close in on him. The tone becomes more dramatic as his visions reveal details of his tragically interrupted family life.
The relatively subtle effects also sometimes bring The Shining to mind. Mike encounters a few ghosts of the room's past occupants but more often it's the room itself that acts up, displaying Mike's old home movies on its TV set, oozing blood from its walls, and suddenly turning from a sauna into an icebox. It's all quite spooky, but never particularly jolting.
What lets the film down most, though, is its oddly structured and not very satisfying ending. Hafstrom apparently shot several alternate endings for the story and selected the one in the theatrical release after test screenings. Perhaps the DVD will offer some more effective options.
The Weinstein Co
Lorenzo di Bonaventura
Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski
Samuel L Jackson