One Liner Review:
A pretty cool premise gets blown into ridiculousness and stupidity way too quickly.
This is one of those movies where it is an absolute shame how much it falls apart as it goes on. The potential is there. The setup is there. But the execution and delivery is completely awful. The movie is about a guy named Mike Enslin, (John Cusack,) who travels the country visiting places that are supposed to haunted, debunking them, and then writing about them. Now, when you think about it, would there really be a following for a guy who claims that every place he visits is nonsense? Probably not. But it works for this movie to show us a character who nothing can rattle or get to in any way, and then to watch when something really does get to him. The scenes where he arrives at the hotel and meets the manager, played by Samuel L Jackson, are by far the best in the movie. And even Enslin’s arrival into the room is pretty cool. But once things start going wrong, the movie handles one scare after another in a manner that is worse and worse. It just gets beyond stupid. A quick example… he sees the bodies of the people who died in the room, walking around, killing themselves, only they don’t look like people. They look like bad TV projections and holograms. At least if they looked like people maybe it could have been scary. There’s plenty more like that. What a wasted opportunity.
Talk about a real shame, this movie had an excellent idea going for it. A guy who investigates places that are supposedly haunted, in order to debunk them and write books about them. A character who has seen it all, and is jaded and narcissistic, but has finally met his match. Sure, it sounds cliched, in the sense that we are always getting movies about an expert in a unique field who finally comes across a real challenge. But we don’t usually get movies about a single hotel room. With that one, this movie is in a league of its own. Or it should have been, had it delivered on all of the setup and potential it had going for it. This movie is pretty good at first, but once the real story gets going and the character enters the hotel room, things start to fall apart pretty quickly.
The movie opens on a dark and stormy night, with Mike Enslin, this ghost debunking author, (played by John Cusack,) arriving in the middle of the night at a hotel. An elderly couple greets him at the front desk and wants to tell him all about their ghost and haunted room. Mike’s not interested. He doesn’t believe in the stories and wants these people to spare his time. He asks them for the keys, again and again, and eventually gets them. Then, for some reason, the movie doesn’t exactly show us what happens in the room. Instead, it cuts to him going to do a book signing, and flashes of him going around the room, proving things wrong. None of this is clear – exactly what he does – but we get the idea. He proved that there were no ghosts there. That’s it.
Enslin does his book signing where he gets very few people in attendance. And he does a question and answer session afterwards. One woman brings him an old copy of his first book to sign, and they discuss it. She tells him that the relationship between the father and son in the book felt so real, was it based on something. Mike says no. Obviously he’s lying. Obviously it’s based on him and his dad. This movie hits every cliche under the sun, such as that one. Another one comes when he decides to go and check out this 1408 room in a hotel in New York, but not before his editor tells him, “are you sure you want to go back to New York, after everything you went through there?” Talk about exposition and forced attempts to setup backstory, or at least make us curious about it. What did he go through in New York? The movie wants us to want to know.
First, though, Mike takes those questions as the signing and basically tells everyone that the ghost business is all fake. He tells them that hotels make this stuff up after the interstate is built, and cars no longer stop by their spot. This gives cars a reason to get off the interstate and come see them. It drums up business. But Mike proves them wrong. Wouldn’t that end up hurting business? He tells hotels, your sales are about to go up after I mention you in my book, but why? It’s not like he’s giving the hotels great reviews. Instead, he’s telling everyone that what the hotel is presenting as a ghost story is a fake. None of it really makes sense. It also doesn’t make sense that Mike would be telling the few people that came to see him that all of this is fake and that he’s never seen a ghost. You want to get business, you tell people great incredible stories. You don’t tell them that you’ve actually got no real stories at all. Mike says during the Q and A, “boy, this went south real fast,” but wouldn’t it have to, if he’s up there telling them that the ghost myths are all fake? So yes, there are inconsistencies and unanswered questions and character cliches and forced ideas, an yet, all of this is still kind of interesting.
And that brings us to the postcard. It is sent to Mike anonymously and he opens it while sitting along at a diner. He adds the numbers 1, 4, and 8 up to get 13. The note says “Don’t enter 1408.” So naturally, Mike is curious. He calls to book the room. They say there is no availability for that room. Mike says he never told them which day. He then starts offering days. How about Saturday? How about one day next week? Next month? Nothing. This is where the movie starts to get interesting. Mike’s published (played by the great Tony Shaloub,) brings in his lawyer and tells Mike that legally the hotel has to allow him to stay in the room, if they are offering it as a room that one can stay in. And that raises the question of why they are still keeping it open as a room that one can stay in. Why not close it permanently?
And now Mike is headed to the Dolphin hotel on Lexington Ave in New York. He takes a cab there, and when he check in, the hotel clerk behind the counter receives a message on her screen that tells her to alert the manager. So she goes and tells a man and the man walks away to find someone else. And then we get a birds eye view shot of the lobby as Gerald Olin, the hotel manager, (played by Samuel L. Jackson,) walks over. He and Mike discuss the room for a few moments. Gerald mentions that there is an old fashioned brass key to the room, whereas all other rooms use magnetic strip cards. He gets the key and then they go up to his office for a more private meeting.
The scene in Gerald’s office is probably the best one in the movie. Samuel L. Jackson has real presence, and it’s a shame he’s not in this movie more. This office scene is really his last scene, other than a tiny flash of him being seen through a refrigerator later on a making a quick comment. But here, in his office, Gerald tries to do everything in his power to convince Mike not to take that room. He offers a room upgrade for free. He gives Mike an expensive bottle of alcohol. He even tells Mike that there have been fifty six deaths in the room, not just the suicides that Mike knows about, but also tons of natural deaths, that the newspapers don’t write about because they aren’t interesting enough. Mike doesn’t care. Gerald calls Mike out on being arrogant and narcissistic and Mike says guilty as charged. And Gerald even shows Mike a scrap book depicting the incidents. He also tells Mike about how often they change the sheets, (once a month,) with two maids going in together, the door being kept open, and Gerald himself standing in the doorway. Even still, a maid got locked inside the bathroom once for an hour. When she came out, she had gouged her eyes out and was blind. The two of them share a drink, which Mike reminds Gerald about. And then they part ways.
And now Mike goes up to the room. In the hallways he sees the same mysterious woman pushing an old fashioned baby carriage, that he saw in the lobby. We get a closeup. of the key entering the hole and turning the lock, and it’s pretty cool. But then something weird happens. Mike takes his time going in. He knows on the door first. He’s scares. He throws the door opened and stands back before entering. This is the guy who we were made to believe wasn’t afraid of “ghoulies and goblins and things that go bump in the night.” And yet he is scared. Strange, and very out of character. He goes in, walks around, says something like, “this is it?” and takes a tour of the room. Mike opens the window to get the NYC street sounds coming in. He takes a toilet paper square off the roll to rub sweat off the back of his neck. And he sits down on the bed to talk into his recorder about each of the three paintings. All of this is great. The little details are great. When things look deceiving around the room – the toilet paper is back to how it started, and there are suddenly mints on the pillows that weren’t there before – Mike makes some funny comments. “A ghost that offers turn down service,” and “Okay, let’s Encyclopedia Brown this bitch.”
But that’s where the fun ends. Once things actually start happening the movie gets worse and worse. That’s because none of the things that happen are very interesting. A window falls on Mike’s hand, and suddenly he’s screaming that he wants out. Granted, he’s injured, but is that really it, so fast? That’s enough to want him to leave? The movie really jumps the gun on wanting him to get out of the room. How about more of the disbelief and thinking everything is a joke or a prank? This movie completely forgets about that idea. It would have been so much more fun if with everything that happened, Mike had a logical explanation for how it could have happened. But the movie doesn’t take that approach. And things just get crazier and crazier. First he sees the images of the people who killed themselves walking over to the window and jumping. That could have been cool, except the movie shows them as holograms, not looking real at all. If you’re Mike in this situation, you have to think the hotel is somehow projecting these. But nope, Mike is all on board. What was the point of this fantastic setup to show us in every way possible that Mike was a cynic about this kind of thing, if he is going to start believing so quickly?
Things get dumber and dumber. Mike ends up walking out on the window ledge, hoping to make it to another room. And later, he ends up going into the air ducts and climbing around in there. The room freezes and becomes like the arctic. And none of this makes any sense at all. Neither does the ending, which takes Mike into another time where he is happy with his wife, and imagines that the whole 1408 experience was a nightmare, only to find that it wasn’t. The movie has completely lost us by this point. And it’s an absolute shame because for a solid twenty to thirty minutes, this thing was pretty good. Everything from him finding out about 1408 and not being able to book a room there, to when the window falls on his hand, was great. His two scenes with Gerald (one in the lobby and the other in Gerald’s office,) were great. But once the room started coming to life – basically once things really started to get going, this movie completely fell apart. This is the kind of movie that needed slow careful details. It seemed to know that when Mike was analyzing the paintings on the bed. Take your time. No rush. And then all of a sudden it forgot about that, and became a bit of a disaster.