Combustible Celluloid
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With: John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Tony Shalhoub, William Armstrong, Mary McCormack, Jasmine Jessica Anthony, Len Cariou
Written by: Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski, Matt Greenberg, based on a story by Stephen King
Directed by: Mikael Håfström
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic material including disturbing sequences of violence and terror, frightening images and language
Running Time: 94
Date: 12/06/2007

1408 (2007)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Room Nervous

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

John Cusack plays Mike Enslin, another of Stephen King's writer characters, this one a talented scribe who wastes his time writing about haunted hotels. He has never actually seen a supernatural occurrence, and so when he hears about a particularly nasty room in New York's Dolphin Hotel, he can't resist. Once inside, he is treated to an hour's worth of terrifying chills, many of which come from within his own psyche. (He and his estranged wife lost his young daughter to a terrible disease.) The real horror lies in anticipation of what happens at the end of that hour. Cusack puts on an impressive one-man show, though Samuel L. Jackson does some wonderful things with his few minutes of screen time as the hotel's manager. Oscar-nominated director Mikael Håfström (Evil, Derailed) turns in a clean, almost old-fashioned film with a precise rhythm. He scares us, then allows us to relax for a few beats. But the movie's real trick is the rising sense of dreadful expectation. When Mike gets to the room at just past the 30-minute mark, it has been built up to the point of near-excruciating suspense. Happily, the film also pays off. Unfortunately, at 94 minutes it's a bit long and relies too much on rudimentary backstory to flesh out Mike's character; if the movie had been about nothing but a guy in a room, it would have been even scarier. The team of Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski (Ed Wood, The People vs. Larry Flynt, etc.) co-wrote the screenplay with Matt Greenberg. Ironically, Cusack played a dead guy in another Stephen King movie, Stand by Me (1986).

DVD Details: Dimension has released an excellent two-disc set including both the theatrical cut and the director's cut (8 minutes longer); I heartily support including more than one version so that viewers can choose. I was surprised to discover that I actually wanted to see this again, and I sat through the director's cut, which changes a few cuts here and there but provides an entirely new ending, and a much better one, I think. Other extras include a commentary track by the director and writers, an interview with Cusack, featurettes, trailers and deleted scenes.

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