324 – 1408

Prepare to be shocked! 1408, the story of a truly haunted hotel room, is electric and terrifying and not a little bit unsettling.

John Cusack stars as Mike Enslin, a writer who specializes in debunking haunted-whatever myths. He’s stayed in hotels and inns and B&Bs all across the country and has not, he says, ever seen evidence of paranormal behavior. Even so, he’s managed to make a somewhat modest living writing about his experiences. He’s a cynic, as most writers are, but Enslin is not only skeptical about things, he outright doesn’t believe in anything, owing in no small part to an earlier tragedy in his life.

And then one day he finds a postcard in his mail from the Dolphin Hotel in New York. There’s but one sentence on the back: “Don’t go into Room 1408.” Enslin’s research then shows that numerous people have died in that particular hotel room – people jumping to their deaths, people slashing their own throats, gouging their own eyes, and so on. Pretty creepy stuff. But since that’s sort of par for the course in Enslin’s line of work, he doesn’t think much of it and manages to wrangle a reservation in the infamous room.

The hotel’s manager, Olin (Samuel L. Jackson) tries desperately to talk Enslin out of staying in the room overnight. No one lasts more than an hour, he warns. Olin points out that many people have died in 1408 of natural causes, too – bringing the death toll to 56. Olin even offers Enslin a rare bottle of booze and the chance to read up on the history of the room, anything to keep Enslin from actually going into the room. He fails.

And who could blame Enslin for being a wee bit skeptical that 1408 is anything to be scared of? He’s been in so many places just like the Dolphin, from seedy motels to high-rise palaces, and he’s never seen anything all that terrifying, and certainly nothing that couldn’t be explained away easily enough. And then he steps into 1408, and all hell breaks loose.

It appears to be such an ordinary room, a fact that Enslin notes into his dictaphone. But then it gets hot, and the window slams shut on his fingers, and he hears a baby crying, and most importantly, the digital clock radio seems to be counting down from one hour – even after he forcibly yanks it from the wall outlet. Before you know it, ghosts from his own past are appearing in his room alongside the ghosts of those who’d died there themselves.

The greatest part about all of this is that while Enslin’s mind is being tortured, smacked around like a tetherball hooked to a pole of sanity, we’re suffering right along with him. We jump when he jumps – and not before he jumps. He feel like screaming just as he does. We’re right there with him through ever shiver, every shudder, every wide-eyed gulp of terror. Enslin isn’t merely frazzled, he’s undone. Even he can’t explain the happenings inside 1408 as creaky floorboards or bad wiring. The horror in the room is personal, reducing even the cockiest skeptic into a pile of blubbering goo.

Cusack, whom I think is one of the finest actors of his generation, is absolutely aces. His idiom is that he’s an Everyman, not someone to whom superhuman powers have been conveyed. Throw another actor into the movie, and you’d expect him to grit his teeth and wipe out the unseen enemies with a blowtorch and some grenades, but not Cusack. Cusack’s Enslin doesn’t know how to deal with the psychological warfare, because neither would we.

That ripping sound you just heard? It was your sanity departing right after Enslin’s.

***1/2

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