Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The simplicity of 1408

The hubby and I were flipping through the channels tonight and landed on Showtime. They were showing 1408. He turned to me and said "I'm surprised you haven't written an article on this".
I'm surprised too actually.
I believe 1408 is brilliant film. Brilliant because of its simplicity.

I caught this in the theater with some friends/fellow ghost story fans. I was interested in this movie from the beginning but I wasn't sure what to expect. Stephan King is hit or miss with me. Frankly I find his stories come across better in mini series form since they can be so long and involved. Luckily this was one of his short stories which translate far better to film. Still, I was skeptical. After all, I did see Sleepwalkers.
On the other hand, Mr. King is a master of the Mind Fuck. The Shinning, Apt Pupil, and The Dead Zone are three movies of his that are top notch. Of course you could probably credit a lot of that to the film makers as much as to Stephen King but without a decent story, you don't have much. So this movie could have gone either way for me. Luckily it went towards the positive. Three main things made this movie stand out for me, its visuals, its story, and its acting.
This movie came out during the onslaught of torture porn. The big films where Hostel, the Saw series, and a variety of other movies trying to jump on the bloody band wagon. 1408 was the complete opposite. The film was simple. A skeptic locks himself in a hotel room and crazy shenanigans happen. That's pretty much it. There were no long gore scenes, no boobies (which may be up for debate amongst some of you as a good thing), and no flashy special effects. The film reminded me of the 1963 The Haunting. Creepy sounds, lighting, and camera angles along with very simple special effects made 1408 feel grounded in reality. There are times when I am alone in the house and I think "Wouldn't it be freaky if that door opened on its own? Or if that radio turned on by itself?". Scary ghostly things are simple and eerie. A window opening on its own or a clock radio turning on to the same song over and over are things that could happen in your own home Granted, there was some CGI but it was minimal. Just enough to make you blink and think twice about what you saw. You don't even see the rooms previous victims other than quick glimpses. Just enough to make your imagination fill in the horrible blanks.

Story wise it was structured great. The story was simple letting the characters, or character actually, be as complicated as it needed to be. The story and the character worked hand in hand. The more crazy things the room did, the more we learned about our protagonist, Mike. Character stories in many movies, not just horror, can sometimes feel tacked on. Here the story line and the character back story worked in perfect harmony, making Mike's nightmare more personal. And it made the fact that he's an asshole more understandable, maybe not excusable but understandable.
Also, you never find out WHY room 1408 is such a fucked up room. There is no explanation, reason, no sudden discovery of the mouth of Hell in the toilet. Its just what Sam Jackson says it is ,"Its an evil fucking room". For me, the uncertain is terrifying. And once again, your imagination starts to fill in the blanks on why the room is so evil. This also leaves a lot of room for mind fuckery. There are no set rules on how this place works therefore you're never safe anywhere. You think you escaped? You feel safe? WRONG! We were just screwing with you. You are trapped and you are doomed. Check out time is noon. Enjoy!

But one great thing that elevated 1408 into a masterpiece for me was the acting. Lets face it folks, our genre doesn't lend itself often to top notch acting. Luckily John Cusack carries the film beautifully. And he has to. A lesser actor in the roll of Mike would have tanked this movie. 95% of the film is Mike alone, reacting to the insanity that is happening around him. Cusack goes from chuckling skeptic, to complete terror, to utter hopelessness, then nihilist bastard effortlessly. None of it seems forced. Not to mention he keeps Mike likable despite the fact that he's kind of a dick. You really feel for him and see the wounded bird behind his gruff and tough exterior. And as the movie goes on, the exterior is torn away ruthlessly and you're left with this broken quivering mass of a man.
And despite the fact that his role was small and that he did Snakes on a Plane (which I own on DVD, I'll admit that) Sam Jackson was just as strong. I find San Jackson to be at his best when he's playing characters like Gerald Olin. He was restrained, elegant, and quietly terrified of room 1408. Some people may think he was under used but I felt he was perfect to set the stage and deliver the facts about the room in a no nonsense tone that made them all the more chilling.

I may be in the minority here, but I truly think 1408 is a masterpiece. Its The Shinning's plucky little brother who isn't afraid to sucker punch you in the gonads. But I've always been a less is more type of girl with my horror, especially with my ghost stories. If you haven't seen 1408, or you feel like checking it out again, take a moment to enjoy its simplicity.


Stac said...

I still have yet to see this, and was hesitant because I was pretty sure I'd figured out the ending. Am I right?

Cins said...

*L* Actually the ending is bizarrely open to interpratation. I took it to mean three different things and I'm still pondering it.
I actually think you'll like it. Its creepy in a way The Changling was creepy.