Saturday, June 30, 2007

Film: '1408' quick review

In "1408," John Cusack plays a depressed writer trapped inside an "evil fucking room" that's clearly bent on driving him nuts and then driving him dead. Once shut in the room, Cusack's Mike Enslin endures tons of disturbing tricks straight outta Stephen King's big bag of horror randomness. He's left witless by flapper-era spooks, attacked by a mask-wearing slasher and even receives a visit from his dead daughter. Most of what happens in "1408" is pretty creepy (especially the periodic blasting of The Carpenter's "We've Only Just Begun"), but it's not the source material or the script, based on a short story by King, that makes "1408" one of the best King adaptations since 1980's "The Shining." The credit should go to Cusack and director Mikael Håfström.

Cusack fully commits to his role, somehow adding weight to Enslin's reheated back story and the ensuing tale of redemption. He makes you feel his emotional, psychological and physical pangs -- whether you want to or not. Håfström's film is refreshingly gore free, but it's still scary as hell. The Swedish filmmaker's suspense-crafting skills cannot be overstated here. The expository scenes leading up to the frights progress with a haunted air, thanks in part to a great supporting turn by Samuel L. Jackson, but things get really tense once Cusack checks into the suite of horrors. Those who don't suffer from anxiety or vertigo will get a chilling taste of both watching Cusack sneak across a ledge in an ill-fated attempt to escape the room. Things get so nerve-wracking that some might want to look away from the screen (like I did) for a few seconds in the third act.

If gripping suspense films are your thing, then "1408" is a must-see. Be warned though. Like most horror/suspense mash-ups, the ending here is more than mildly ambiguous. What might seem like a Hollywood ending to some might seem bleak to others. The ambiguity doesn't spoil what came before though, and it's sure to spark tons of theories from chatty film buffs.