A PG-13 horror film coming into the midst of a summer full of bloody R-rated slashers, like "1408" has, is a bit odd.
Odd, but totally welcome, since it should be very clear to anyone after "Hostel Part 2’s" dismal opening that audiences are dead tired of blood and guts. "1408" delivers what amounts to the exact opposite of gross-out horror: genuine thrills. In fact, the only real blood in the entire film is from a small cut on Mike Enslin’s (John Cusack) hand.
Enslin, who writes on spooky hotels around the country, has checked into the Dolphin Hotel in order to write about room 1408, a reportedly evil room where 56 people have mysteriously died since the hotel’s opening. Enslin, cynical and skeptical of everything since his daughter’s death from cancer, finds out quickly that this room isn’t just some trumped up ghost story.
Director Mikael Hafstrom keeps a film that takes places in a single room feeling open and expansive, with every camera cut possibly leading to the room looking entirely different. The soundtrack is so well put together you wonder if some of the noises aren’t actually in the theater.
All very well done, but the real reason the film is so engrossing is Cusack, who for the majority of the film literally has to act to an empty room. Samuel L. Jackson appears briefly in the beginning — props to the screenwriters for being smart enough to know that he had to drop the one curse word a PG-13 film is allowed — but for the most part Cusack is alone; if someone else had taken this role, it could have ruined the film. Cusack deftly switches between comedy, insanity, terror and sorrow all while speaking mostly to himself. It’s a tour de force role for an actor who doesn’t always get the credit he deserves. He absolutely nails it, keeping the film scary and intriguing as long as he is in 1408.
By the end of the movie, however, the screenwriters seem more concerned with a happy ending than truly wrapping the story up in any satisfying way; which is too bad, since the original short story by Stephen King had such a deliciously disturbing ending that would have fit the film and the character Cusack creates perfectly. It’s unfortunate that such a truly creepy movie leaves you walking out of the theater so unsatisfied simply because of the last five minutes.
It is fortunate, though, that "1408" came out at all and hopefully the success of this film and films like "Disturbia," where the terror and the suspense come from actual terror and suspense and not random beheadings, will send a sign that while gallons upon gallons of blood are all well and good, horror movie audiences can only be grossed out so much.
In the end, all we really want is to be scared.