Dimension Films & MGM
Continual hallucinations of suicidal ghosts springing from the walls, self-aware windows slamming shut, the thermostat jumping from extremes, the exit door won’t open and the radio alarm clock instantly turns on, ominously blasting the Carpenters’ “We’ve Only Just Begun.” Is this the essence of a nightmare?
1408 is a supernatural thriller that contains next to no blood or graphic gore; instead it relies on atmosphere and suspense. Understandably that may sound a bit quaint judging by the horror films churned out today, but it’s actually surprisingly refreshing to watch a scary film that adheres to a Hitchcockian technique rather than another reconstituted slasher.
The film is yet another adaptation from a Stephen King short story, this one from his “Everything’s Eventual” collection. The title, “1408,” is in reference to the New York hotel where more than three-dozen guests have met their doom (12 suicides and 30 natural deaths over a span of 68 years). And where the majority of the story takes place.
Mike Enslin is an author of guidebooks for fanatics of the occult. However as a cynical, malcontent he spares no effort pretending to believe in any of it. We quickly discover that Enslin wants to stay in room 1408, not because he wants to see something supernatural, but rather to use it as a concluding chapter in his most recent guidebook. However, before Enslin even makes it to the room, he begins to question his approach on the supernatural, due to the hotel managers’ desperate warnings about the room. In old-fashioned horror movie style, walls bleed and pulsate, paintings alter, and a phone operator offers suicide in a haunting pleasant manner.
Swedish director Mikael Hafstrom (“Derailed”) does a superb job of establishing an ominous ambience, and then more than delivers the goods when Enslin arrives at the hotel room where, apparently, you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave. A brilliant scene involves Enslin looking out the window at a busy New York street, and sound suddenly stopping, the feeling is overwhelming as you strain to try and hear, as he does. 1408 has something of a classic “Twilight Zone” manner to it, especially with the type of moralistic retribution design.
Unlike the slasher/ torture/ horror directors that bought “Saw” and “Hostel” to the screen, Hafstrom is clearly very aware that when it comes to jumpy scares, less is often more. It’s far more successful and smart to exploit tension and suspense from overly tame moments than go mad with an intense attack of blood and gore. So really, don’t expect lots of guts and gore, but don’t dismiss this film because of that. If anything, this film shook me more than anything recent I’ve seen. With its perfect timing, anxious tension, weird shocks, and numerous misleading endings causing you to relax, when actually it gets more intense each time it appears to resume. This film is a brilliant ghost story, go and watch it late at night, in an empty cinema.