All work and no Joan Cusack makes John something something.

Theatrical Release Date: 06/22/2007
Director: Mikael Håfström
Cast: John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Mary McCormack, Jasmine Jessica Anthony

What makes the following discussion between Elizabeth Edgemont and Audrey Hess about “1408″ interesting is that it never took place (but it probably would have gone just the same way). They did see the movie together and they have created a hybrid review style that I may or may not emulate and steal for myself … thou hast been warned.

I like Stephen King. He has been my buddy for over 15 years, providing me with scares, laughs, tears, and more! The only problem I have with his material is its inevitable bastardization once Hollywood gets their hands on it. I lost touch with Stephen about 5 years ago when his work became stagnant for me both in movies and, more importantly, in his books.

It is easier to name the good King films than it is to name all of the bad ones. Not true, I’ll start with “Tommyknockers”, “Needful Things” and move on through to “Dreamcatcher”. The only consistently successful King films are the ones based on his 1940’s prison stories. Most of the horror films, however, suck pretty bad. Yeah, she’s right.

In the movie “1408”, Cusack plays Mike Enslin, an author that spends a night in a variety of “haunted” locales to write his books. He has yet to experience anything supernatural on any of his sleepovers, and after the past family drama he has endured, he doesn’t believe in much of anything anymore.

When he heads to the Dolphin Hotel on an ominous tip (Don’t stay in 1408), he calmly enters room 1408 despite dire warnings. The hotel manager, played by Samuel Jackson, conveys an ominous and foreboding tone to the introduction to room 1408. His calm quickly evaporates when he realizes that he is in for much more than he bargained for, and soon is in a struggle for his very soul, that he must win or lose in less than 1 hour.

Cutting to the chase and going against any preconceptions, “1408″ doesn’t suck. It is a well made film. I loved it!The acting is fabulous, for one, just what I would expect from a cast of this caliber. Cusack is a master at lending credibility to off-kilter characters, and a lesser man would have quickly been literally swallowed up by the scenery.

Jackson and McCormack provide solid performances as well, as the hotel manager Olin and Cusack’s estranged wife Lily, but it is Anthony who provides a truly eerie and impressive performance as Katie Enslin that deserves praise. It is quite a nuanced acting turn for such a young actress. I didn’t even pay attention to her to be honest; I was really just enthralled with Cusack.

The evils that this film perpetrates on our hapless hero are also quite impressive. The effects are great, and the scares are big. Director Mikael Håfström keeps you on the edge of your seat consistently, even if you can see quite a few of the twist and turns coming. I was disappointed to find a few of the best bits from the trailer ended up on the cutting room floor. I hate that S***.

My biggest issue is with the interpretation of the short story. “1408” is an awesome story. It is short, but effective. Until he enters the 1408, all of Enslin’s interactions are even and subtle. We know very little of his past, except that he is level-headed and doesn’t believe any of what he writes.

He calmly sits through Olin’s weary warnings of traumatized maids, suicides, and unexplained deaths. Despite a vague sense of unease, he leaves the elevator perfectly sane. When he enters the evil room, it all changes. Enslin’s trip down the rabbit hole is both instantaneous and intense, and his sudden spiral into madness is terrifying. The instantaneous part is where I think the film takes the better path. I know it takes me a bit to get good and insane.

In the film, they do use the basic plot, and even use some of the better lines from the story. Unfortunately, a short taut exercise in dementia does not translate well into a big budget movie. As a result, much is added- Enslin’s background, a lot of the events in the room, and a large sequence in the middle of the film.

In some cases, this leads to dropped story arcs, which is a bit frustrating. I liked that fact that everything didn’t have a nice and tidy finish and explanation; the unexplained always leaves a stronger afterglow.

The other Hollywood contrivance is the edge that has been added to the characters. The conversation between Enslin and the manager Olin is much more argumentative, and Olin’s indignant attitude destroys the sense of resignation he had in the book. The manager here has a much stronger undertone of menace, lending to a darker tone of their interaction.

Enslin feels like a man on the edge of a breakdown from the beginning, which makes his descent into madness less shocking, though also making the audience more comfortable with the onslaught about to occur.

Still, all in all, I did like the film. It is good for a scare to be sure. I must admit, I jumped at least 3 times and hid behind my knees for a good 5 min. I just wish that our movie industry still had some original ideas. Remaking a book into a movie should be a tribute to the book, not a quick and dirty way to mass produce scripts. However, it should be noted that the writers of this screenplay also tackled “Ed Wood” and the “Prophecy” series, both slightly off kilter and very entertaining.

I’ll climb off my soapbox now and give this movie a 3 out of 5, but for an experience that rates at least a 4, try reading the story, located in King’s Everything’s Eventual short story tome. Happy reading! I’ll second the motion and give it a 3 out of 5 for entertainment, good production value, great acting, and making me jump.