John Cusack checks into Room 1408 at Manhattan's posh Dolphin Hotel and finds that the joint is jumpin' with ghosts who will do their damnedest to make sure the dude will not get out alive.
It's a hellish premise, just the wicked mastery you expect from Stephen King, whose short story gives this mindbender its spine. King's recent work has been royally botched onscreen (hello, Secret Window, Needful Things and Dreamcatcher). Not this time. For that all praise to Cusack, who brings his welcome smartass savvy to the role of Mike Enslin, the author of bestsellers that debunk the idea of things that go bump in the night. Mike has his own demons, notably the death of his daughter (Jasmine Jessica Anthony), a tragic event that shattered his marriage to Lily (Mary McCormack).
It makes Mike's cynicism palpable as he checks into Room 1408 despite the objections of hotel manager Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson), who informs him that more than fifty people have died trying to spend the night there. Just to hear Jackson intone the line — "it's an evil fucking room" — is enough to shiver your timbers.
Swedish director Mikael Hafsrom, who scored with Evil in 2003 and fizzled badly with Derailed two years later, seems to have regained his footing. The mid-section of 1408 is saddled with tacky and needless special effects, but Hafstrom ratchets up the tension big time as Cusack pulls out all the stops in a performance way beyond frightfest duty.
The fact that 1408 is relatively free of gore has encouraged some critics to use it to attack what they call the torture porn of such directors as Hostel's Eli Roth. But Roth is a gifted filmmaker with his own goals and methods to achieve them. Hafstrom wisely takes the path King intended: to plumb the violence of the mind. Heebie-jeebies are guaranteed.