As John Cusak ages, he’s far beyond the quirky teen 80s films like Say Anything and Better Off Dead, where he first broke ground as a star. Despite his 20-plus years of varied characters, Cusak has most always embodied the cool, bored, cynical-type, who really has a bleeding heart beneath the cracked shell, and 1408 finds him there once again.
As the talented writer, Mike Enslin, Cusak has lost his literary soul to churn out fast-money horror hotel tour guides. His job is to find a ghost, or maybe anything at all, to believe in. He’s jaded and bored until an anonymous postcard warns him about room 1408 in New York City’s historic Hotel Dolphin.
Samuel L. Jackson is a terrific co-star as the hotel manager, doing his damnedest to talk Enslin out of the idea of checking in.
Based on a Stephen King short story, 1408 may not be the scariest thing out there, but it still provides enough of a freak-out to keep everyone interested. Perhaps the best thing about King’s work is his ability to break down the thin wall between reality and the imagination, and to show us the many possibilities for evil, even within ourselves. Teenagers in the audience didn’t seem to think 1408 was all that scary—and in comparison with the standard American adolescent diet of gore and screaming surprises, maybe it’s not. There’s a little, but not a lot, of seat-jumping. Instead, 1408 is scary in a smarter way; haunting Enslin of what he’s done in real life, what he can’t take back, what can be changed, and the sheer terror of no escape from all of it.
Maybe a bleeding heart beneath the cracked shell is the human condition. But as long as we stay hard, 1408 tells us we’re better off dead.