1408 (2007)

(In theaters, June 2007) To borrow from The Prestige, all horror films have three phases: The setup, filled with unspoken horrors and the promise of upcoming chills; the turn, in which the supernatural becomes apparent and characters are confronted with mounting madness; and the prestige, in which an explanation is offered and a resolution is attained. 1408 does its setup exceptionally well, gets sillier during its turn and falls apart during its prestige. None of this is the fault of anchor John Cusack, present in almost all scenes as a writer who’s forced to confront his past while trapped in a homicidal hotel room. The beginning of the film is a small gem of foreboding, as the nature of room 1408 is explained by an ice-cold Samuel L. Jackson. Cusack himself is pudgier than ever, but looks comfortably back in the charming screen persona he exemplified in the mid to late nineties. But as the hotel room starts to spin its evil tricks, our minds start grasping at an overarching explanation that never quite gels. The phenomenons in the room are chilling but don’t add up to a coherent set of powers and capabilities: just a series of jolts and impossible events. To be entirely fair, though, 1408 is quite good in its minute-by-minute execution: the direction is slick, the pacing is satisfying and the quality of the images couldn’t be better. Even the script does a fine job at stringing one thing after another, including a cute moment near the end that will make savvier film-goers mutter “I really hope it doesn’t end like that”. The true ending is a bit pat, but at least serves the primary purpose of any conclusion. It’s a shame that the pieces don’t all fit together (something that may be blamed on the adaptation of Stephen King’s thin short story) and that we’re left with a curious sentiment of dissatisfaction: as it plays, 1408 is one of the best horror films in recent memory… and it does so within the creative constraints of a PG-13 rating.

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