The sinister schtick of hotel room 1408 is “No one lasts more than an hour”. It’s a potent warning/teasing tagline that’s also a bit of a gimme for reviewers of this slick, shlocky Stephen King adaptation, which shakes and shocks superbly for, naturally, 60 minutes before loosening its grip on the sphincter and making a bit of a mess. The climactic bullshit doesn’t disembowel the picture entirely, though, and this is still an expertly packaged pillaging of The Haunting (1963) and The Sixth Sense (1999). It also manages to tap two universal human truths: first, everyone wants to believe there’s something beyond the here-and-now – a place where wrongs can be righted, questions answered, any regrets dissolved, death destroyed, justice restored and love is triumphant. And second, everyone loves John Cusack.
The creased everyman hasn’t been stretched since 2002’s underrated Max. But though 1408 doesn’t add up to much (beyond 13), it does underline his eternal ability to provide a sure thing in an uncertain world. As the cynical scribe of books on haunted hotels, staying in a room that may actually be PURE EVIL, Cusack brings truth to the most absurd of spooky situations and character quirks (perhaps only he could get away with the cigarette-behind-the-ear wrinkle in a bloke who doesn’t smoke). And while Samuel L Jackson makes a brief, funny and surprisingly urbane appearance, this is really a one-hander: Cusack uncut – smart, sly and emotional with just four walls to bounce off.
Director Mikael Håfström (Derailed) isn’t an idiot, either. Sound and suggestion are his most potent tools and they are ably exploited as Cusack first rustles around his cursed room. It’s when the filmmaker (or the studio) loses faith and tries to up the shock and gore with more explicit effects – apparitions that look like knock-off Star Wars holograms; blood pulsing from bricks – that 1408 starts to falter. And even as the tension builds, the sneaking suspicion remains that there’s no way to escape the set-up satisfactorily: a feeling that is confirmed when an ill-advised piece of rule-bending robs the last half hour of any real resonance. Still, for Cusack’s turn and the first hour’s thrilling set up, it’s worth checking out.