It is my birthday month, and as such I’m going to review a movie that doesn’t have the best reputation, but I like anyway. Why? Because I make up the rules around here.
Suck it up, gravediggers and undertakers, it’s all about me. Here we go!
Director: Mikael Håfström
Starring: John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, and Mary McCormack
That’s right, Stephen King! Possibly my favorite author, he has had countless books and short stories turned into movies and tv shows. I’ve even thought about dedicating a year of MMM reviews to his movie adaptations, but I think I’ll space them out.
The story 1408 was not a long read, which sometimes makes for the best kind of movie, since the director has the time to include everything from the story that they feel is relevant, and that is certainly the case here. I haven’t read the story since before the movie came out, but if memory serves, this was pretty spot on (except for part of the ending).
This movie will always draw unjust comparisons to The Shining for being King’s ‘other’ haunted hotel story. While such a broad comparison is not false, the contents within are vastly different. Oh, and they both feature authors in the haunted hotel, but I swear, they aren’t the same story/movie.
John Cusack plays Mike Enslin, a non-fiction author who debunks haunted locations. As such, he’s opted to stay in the Dolphin Hotel, room 1408, which is known for killing over 50 guests in a span of 95 years. Mike, checking into the hotel, meets the manager Gerald Olin (played by Samuel L Jackson) who virtually begs Mike not to stay in the room. He explains details behind several of the many deaths that occurred in that room, and other tragedies that didn’t result in death, but extreme bodily harm. Undeterred, Mike asks for his room key, showing his determination. Olin concedes, and leads Mike to the floor. He makes one more plea, and when that fails refuses to get off the elevator, explaining that he won’t go any closer to the room unless absolutely necessary.
Still skeptical, Mike makes his way, ignorant of what lies ahead of him. Once inside, he narrates into a voice recorder how boring the room’s appearance is and what a letdown it is. While searching the room, the clock radio turns on, playing The Carpenters’ song “We’ve Only Just Begun,” an omen from the room that shit is about to get real.
Mike ignores this, chalking it up to a scare tactic of Olin. While looking out the window, the music starts again, and the time display changes to a 60 minute countdown clock, reminding Mike that Olin says no one has lasted an hour in the room. Suddenly, with his hand still on the lip, the window slams shut, drawing blood, and possibly breaking his hand.
At this point, Mike is ready to leave, and admit defeat. Unfortunately, the room won’t let him leave, because remember, ‘we’ve only just begun.’ Shortly after, he begins to see past victims of the room appear as apparitions at the moment of their death. Several jump out the window, others die more violently. He even sees several of his dead family, including his father and daughter.
Not allowed to leave through the door, Mike tries to escape through the air duct in the ceiling, but is attacked by the rotting corpse of Kevin O’Malley (who looks like Bill Murray’s dead former boss from Scrooged). Fighting off the zombie, Mike ends up over the next room which has a woman holding a baby whom he saw in the lobby when he was checking in.
He calls for help, but she appears to not hear him, when the conversation she’s having with an unseen partner sounds familiar to Mike. The woman looks up menacingly to Mike, and she’s revealed to be his ex-wife, Lily, from when they first had their daughter. In an attempt to flee, he crashes through the duct and ends up back in room 1408.
Desperate to escape, Mike uses his laptop call Lily, but the sprinkler system shorts out the computer. Later, the temperature drops to freezing levels, and the laptop begins working again. In a video chat, Lily says the police have entered the room, but that it is empty. The digital Mike in the video pleads for Lily to come to the room despite the real Mike protesting this. The room, through digital Mike, gives him a knowing wink, and it’s clear there’s nothing safe in the room.
From there, Mike deals with an earthquake that causes a painting of a ship sailing in a storm to break. This break causes a flood, drowning Mike in the room. Suddenly he wakes up on the beach, reliving an accident he had, and the entire experience was his active mind while unconscious from the surfing incident. Lily, still his wife, suggests Mike writes a story of his dream.
When at the Post Office to mail out the manuscript, Mike notices all of the employees are people from the Dolphin Hotel, and they begin destroying the walls around him, revealing him to still be in the destroyed room. With over 20 minutes left of the movie, we knew he wasn’t out.
He’s confronted by his daughter, and he embraces her, seemingly coming to terms with her death that he wasn’t able to before. Unfortunately, she dies in his arms, and crumbles to dust; truly a gut-wrenching moment, even if it was expected. The countdown hits zero, and the room restores to normal.
But oh no, he’s not free just yet, the clock restarts! He gets a call from the concierge desk, and is asked if he would like to make an express check out (meaning he can kill himself, conveniently a noose appears overhead) or he can relive the past hour over and over. He envisions himself hanging himself, but refuses.
Using a match and bottle of alcohol that Olin gave him earlier in the movie, Mike burns the room down, resigning himself to his fate. The fire alarm goes off, and all of the guests are evacuated, while the firefighters save Mike’s life.
Having survived, Mike and Lily reunite, although she doubts the evils of the room as anything more than hallucinations induced by Mike’s smoke inhalation. Mike finds his voice recorder which plays their daughter’s voice from his time in the room, either confirming his story, or (and what I like to believe) that he’s still trapped in the room, and he’s doomed to relive horror after horror every time he thinks he’s broken free. But seeing as how fire was what worked in the story, it is more likely that he got out safely.
On to the rating…
The movie currently sits at 61% fan votes at Rotten Tomatoes, and while that isn’t a ‘bad’ score, I think it should be firmly in the mid-to-high eighties.
While Sam Jackson does well in his role, as does Mary McCormack with hers, the movie is clearly a display of John Cusack’s underrated abilities. He is great in this movie from the very beginning and his skepticism to the realization something is unnatural with the room to his downright horror when he KNOWS he’s going to die in that damned room.
Admittedly, this isn’t the scariest movie, and it is nowhere near the level of The Shining, but it’s a false comparison that is hurting the movie from standing on its own. The psychological torture this guy goes through is unbearable to fathom having to go through, and that damned scene with his daughter dying in his arms is a gut punch like no other.
All because the room digits add up to 13 on the 13th floor.
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