Mike Enslin (John Cusack) is a sceptical writer who travels around America staying in supposedly haunted hotel rooms and giving them shining, ghost-filled reviews in his cheap thrill books. He has come to live this way after the death of his daughter, Katie (Jasmine Jessica Anthony) and the resulting separation from his wife, Lily (Mary McCormack). He's lost his drive to write real books and is lost.
His PO box is always overflowing with invites and flyers from Haunted Hotel owners, but there's one hotel in New York that he feels compelled to visit after receiving an anonymous flyer, The Dolphin Hotel.
He travels to New York and tries to check into room 1408. The hotel's manager, Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson) attempts several times to dissuade Mike from staying in that room, offering him bribes and free evidence. But Mike is determined, and is eventually given the keys. Olin takes him to the floor, but not the room, and warns him that over 56 people have died inside 1408 and no one has lasted more than an hour.
Mike sits in the room for a while, telling his tape recorder about the shabby, boring appearance of the room, its drab decor and lack of any supernatural phenomenon. And then, the room makes with the scary!
The film is quite intense, elegant and jumpy. The scares flip smoothly from psychological to 'boo' moments and Cusack gives his usual high level of character acting for the tense surroundings. Mike begins as a sceptic, slowly slides into intrigued and shocked, falls into terror and tries to bounce back into control. It's a good rollercoaster effect and Cusack pulls it off brilliantly.
The version I watched was the Director's cut which has the, what I like to call, 'British Audience Ending'; we're rarely upset with a sad, brutal ending. The 'real' ending, if you like, was quite a lot different, due to negative responses at test screenings. I haven't actually seen this ending so can't really offer comparison, but I really liked the ending in this one and thought it fitted with King's usual story telling very well.
I think this film is quite classy for the modern horror as it manages to entertain and scare its audiences with no sex. Not that I don't love a good sleazy 80s slasher, but I'm finding that a lot of modern horror films feel the need to have boobs and torture to the max and it's getting boring. What I liked about "1408" was that it's scary and has some gore and grisly bits (there is a very good scene with a blue light), jumps and thrills without pandering to the 'Saw'-seekers.
Keeping with King's recurring theme of 'places that are just wrong' "1408" is more than a haunted hotel story, and the evil cannot be truly beaten. Really worth watching.