1408 is about an asshole writer named Mike (John Cusack) who’s
attacked and driven crazy by a Manhattan hotel room. Now, you might wonder why a hotel room would bother attacking an asshole, so Samuel L. Jackson, playing a dickhead hotel manager, clarifies the situation: “It’s an evil fucking room.” So there.
Actually, there’s a smidgen more to this inert bit of Stephen King story recycling than that, but just a smidgen. We first meet Mike while he’s on a book tour hawking his latest ghost-debunking book. At a reading, a fan shows him a copy of an apparently great novel he wrote before becoming an asshole. Later, we’ll learn that Mike’s father was mean, and that he lost a child to disease, all of which may or may not have caused him not only to become an asshole, but an atheist asshole at that.
But as we know from Secret Window, Misery, and The Shining, Mike will suffer his comeuppance. Stuck on a last chapter for his latest ghost-buster tome, he receives a postcard warning him, to never, ever visit Room 1408 in Manhattan’s Dolphin Hotel. So it’s off to Gotham and the Dolphin, where Mike will prove that 1408 is just another scam.
Anyway, Mike meets with Jackson’s Dolphin manager and is recited a litany of horrors that have taken place in the infamous room. Mike ignores the warnings and checks in, and we face the question: Do we love John Cusack enough to spend an hour watching him deal with the occasional poltergeist manifestation but mainly talk to himself in an evil fucking room?
While lazily ridiculous, stingy, structurally scattered, and nearly scare-free, the real mystery of 1408 is why director Mikael Håfström (a promising Swedish director who turned hack on contact with Hollywood and Jennifer Aniston with 2005’s Derailed) treats this hokum with a gravitas that suggests he’s filming revenant-infested Strindberg and why Cusack, who emotes the fuck out of Mike, even bothers.
But what 1408 underlines is King’s observation, in his genre overview Danse Macabre, that horror is as conservative as a banker in a three-piece suit. Politically disruptive left-leaners such as Bong Jo-Hoon, John Carpenter, Wes Craven, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, and Joe Dante, to name just five, would disagree. But the mere existence of this PG-13 spooker manqué, which trades in past glories, exhausted tradition, and even more exhausted scare tactics, proves King right by default.