“It’s an evil fucking room.”—Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson)
I am not generally a horror fan. I’ll watch them, enjoy some of them, but for the most part, I could never get down with the genre as a whole. It’s one of the few genres where I just don’t get the love. Westerns used to be like that for me but I’ve since grown accustomed to the glacial pacing and tough guy bravado of the genre. Musicals too unless they have a real edge or bite to them. Would never go near Mama Mia! Or High School Musical (well also because I’m not a twelve year old girl or an over eager mother of one) but loved the hell out of movies like Moulin Rouge and Sweeney Todd.
Horror is a general give and take for me because in the end, what is truly scary? I don’t know. I honestly can say I’ve never really been so shaken up by a horror movie I’ve seen. I mean, sure when I was little watching any crap horror movie would probably make me a bit apprehensive in the night but nothing that really stays with you. Because in the end, (which I guess you could say for most every other genre but very noticeably with horror) it’s mostly schlock and crap. It’s a cloaked douche bag with a hook and he’s got a vendetta for some reason. Either he died and he’s back or he wasn’t really dead or it wasn’t his mother or he molests children in their dreams or whatever bullshit they come up with. There’s too much a need of wanting to explain the origins of everything these days and its becoming increasingly more and more about slashing and gore and what’s the most violent, awesome kill we can throw up there. And of course there’s the over reliance on jump scares which count as horror about as much as accidentally walking into a lamppost.
But like I say, I’m not a fan. So, I haven’t seen the really awesome, cool stuff that most other horror geeks could probably throw at me and hold up as something beyond the mainstream.
Although, from a layman’s point of view on the genre, there are two very distinct sides of the genre. There’s the slasher horror movies where it’s basically a lumbering Michael Myers-style killer coming to kill you in the most entertaining way possible and then there’s the more interesting half: the “psychological thriller”. Which is pretty much just fancy talk for a horror movie. Now, a lot of these tend to be Japanese horror remakes like The Ring or The Grudge but they’re mainly dressed up slasher flicks that are just that much more boring just in their repetitive styles. That’s the kind of horror that I’d prefer seeing more often. Where in the end, you may not even be sure that what happened actually happened or if there was anything there to begin with. Of course, they don’t make these too often and would be pretty tricky to pull off without becoming horribly dull.
And, of course, that lengthy introduction brings me to the film of which this blog post is about: 1408 which certainly falls into the latter category of horror. Based on the short story by Stephen King and directed by Mikael Hafstrom, the film stars John Cusack as a writer who goes around debunking stories of haunted houses and hotels and such. That is until he visits the room 1408 of the Dolphin Hotel in New York City where he comes face to face with his own demons as well as the hotel’s. Samuel L. Jackson’s also in there for a bit as the hotel manager who warns him not to stay in the room and then disappears until the very end. It’s basically an extended cameo since the entire movie is basically the Cusack show.
It’s an interesting set up that starts off quite nicely and certainly draws you in. Especially once the bumps in the night begin. Unfortunately, all that set up and psychological, subtle horror goes all out the window as the movie moves forward when things have to, inevitably, get bigger and more direct. In fact, I really love the first half of this movie. Cusack’s lonely writer character with a haunted past that is slowly revealed throughout the film is a pretty basic character archetype but it’s so well set up and Cusack plays it so well with a kind of detached humor and skepticism to his whole job that it makes watching him half the fun.
When he first enters the room and it slowly builds and builds the horror of being isolated in this lonely, tiny corner of Manhattan, the most crowded city in the world, I was at the edge of my seat waiting for that other shoe to drop. I think it’s because of this first half and my wanting a deeper, headier horror movie that didn’t show off all its wears that I wanted to like it more than I actually did. There are definitely points where it feels like its playing off of the general horror clichés like what’s hiding behind the shower curtain and something popping up behind you in the mirror, two examples that do get set up in the film but act more as red herrings. It’s this first half which really sold me on the film where it’s his isolation that becomes truly terrifying. The parts where the idea that everything is linked to his mind and all of the things that are happening are due to his not being able to let go of his past gave me great hope for this movie that it would really be the horror movie for someone like me who doesn’t need all that hacking and slashing to be scary.
Unfortunately, what does end up happening is he gets attacked by an angry hobo who I guess isn’t actually there and the entire room breaks apart in some weird metaphysical flood. The second half completely disappoints on the potential of the first. If you haven’t noticed, it’s at these points where the movie loses me and ceases to be frightening or even slightly chilling. It’s as if the tension builds to these moments and you’re left scratching your head wondering, that’s it? The smelly hobo with a knife is the scariest thing you can throw at me? Luckily, the film does leave things unexplained as to the reasons that this room is so particularly haunted. Of course, there’s the usual lip service to previous deaths and such but the fact that the room psychologically drives you insane with ghosts and walls crashing down on you is enough for the viewer to draw their own conclusions.
Once the film becomes something outside of the character’s head and just becomes a big, loud supernatural thriller, I basically checked out of the movie. While, there are still some good moments to be had, the film squanders its good will by not letting the horror of the background stay there and really tries to bring all of that up in big, loud ways that don’t really do anything but kind of bore you to death. Maybe that’s the true horror of 1408.
Man that was kind of lame. I apologize.
Oh, and just as a little side note, when the trailers started showing they always had this little clip of Sam Jackson opening a door and just yelling, “I told you not to stay in 1408!”. This kind of became a running joke for me and my friends where we’d imagine that the movie would have a scene where something crazy would be happening to Cusack and Jackson would pop his head in, say the line, and immediately leave with no rhyme or reason to it. The great disappointment of this movie is that this scene doesn’t happen and they seemed to have cut out that line too.