Few days ago I saw the movie 1408, directed by Mikael Håfström. I must say, I wasn’t impressed. It didn’t work out for me but let’s start from the beginning.
1408 is the story about Mike Enslin (played by John Cusack) - man specialized in debunking paranormal occurrences. Basically, he is going from one to another so called haunted place and writes books about it afterwards. He never saw any ghost until he ended up in the room 1408 of the New York’s Dolphin hotel. We will also get to know that he got separated from his wife after the loss of their daughter due to cancer, and that he seemingly had a problematic relationship with his father. I’ll say this could be a good base for a horror story. From now on, you may choose to continue or to stop reading because some major spoilers are coming your way.
Room 1408 was promising for all horror lovers. First, the room was unavailable by default. The Dolphin hotel refused renting it. Mike Enslin had to search for legal means and advice in order to enter it. Second, there was hotel manager, mister Olin (played by Samuel L. Jackson) – a man determined to change Enslin’s decision and stop him from entering the room. Olin’s speech and a book of records of unfortunate events that occurred in the room 1408, filled with gore pictures and scary stories, were more than promising. It gets even better after Olin’s statement that no one survived in that room for more than one hour! One hour only. I had to prepare myself for the possible upcoming gore and horror events. But they won’t happen. That is, to say, nice contrast. You expect one thing but you get another one. All would be fine if it would make any sense.
So, yes, it wasn’t scary at all but that’s alright. Let’s see what we got. We got the absolute mix of several clichés, known to all that enjoy and watch the horror genre, myself included. The main problem is that this mix is very far from any good synthesis and acceptable meaning.
Our expectations are high. Remember, no one survived in that room for more than an hour. There was 56 recorded death cases and some of them were horrifying. Enslin is entering in spite of everything we know. And what happened? We are seeing ghosts jumping from the room’s window, a bleeding wall, water running down from a painting, a sort of like a zombie in a ventilation shaft and so on. All that we saw before and none that is actually life threatening to our guy, although he does react like being in some sort of a grave danger. I won’t say all. It won’t be interesting for those that actually want to see this movie.
There were two scenes that I love a lot. First one is when Enslin is trying to get help and he is waving to a guy that sits in a room in a building across the hotel. Pretty soon Enslin is becoming aware that the guy makes the same body movements like himself. In fact, the guy was himself. That was creepy. It was well made. And it was nice because it tells us that in our fears we are facing only ourselves and only we can rescue ourselves.
The second scene I love is the arriving of Enslin’s dead daughter. Enslin is crying while holding her and she is dying in his hands. It was that simple and yet very effective. She didn’t turn into a monster or some other crap. She just silently died and he lost her again. I was truly shivering. It was powerful, at least for me, because it shows the real horror - the horror of life. At this point, I thought perhaps that was the director’s intension, meaning to put a horror into another and “more realistic” frame, to tell us that we don’t need monsters and that the life itself is full of horror stories, and our lives and our minds are more frightening than anything else we could possibly imagine. But these are just my thoughts…
Håfström (director) didn’t take any of available ways to present the story and he certainly had many. For example, it would be perfectly reasonable to assume that Enslin is obsessed with haunted places because of the loss of his daughter. Either he wants to find her or he simply needs to know if there is an afterlife at all. Promising paintings, ghosts, a zombie… So many possibilities! Unexplored! Their role and appearances turned insignificant. We will never get to know their stories. Yes, we can conclude that rooms are full of sufferings, not just Enslin’s but it could be our own, or anyone’s sufferings, and so on. The problem is that I will never know for sure am I just desperately trying to find the point and justify the story and choice of its execution because too many things appear to be meaningless or unnecessary, and detached one from another. The entire movie I had to struggle with it. All my tries have ended up nailed in one way or another. Possibilities will never merge for good, into something meaningful.
So, Enslin survived one hour and the clock is ticking again. However, he is given a chance to go out but he doesn’t want. Not just that he went that far stating that it won’t be on the room’s way, like there ever was a room’s way, but he is determined to burn the room and himself together, apparently unnecessary. 1408 had good base and good turns, but it ended up in a real mess. To sum up, every single possibility and motive is simply unexplored and undeveloped. Whatever the director’s intension, however I turn it, the truth is simple – it wasn’t powerful enough to shake my boxerZ.