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Originally published June 22, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified June 26, 2007 at 2:20 PM

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Movie review

"1408" is a creepy hotel flick worth checking into

The look of sardonic befuddlement that gives John Cusack such genial charm gets a real workout in "1408," a genuinely disturbing and ingenious...

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars


"1408," with John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Mary McCormack, Jasmine Jessica

Anthony. Directed by Mikael Håfström, from a screenplay by Matt Greenberg, Scott

Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, based on a short story by Stephen King. 94 minutes. Rated PG-13 for thematic material including disturbing sequences of violence and

terror, frightening images and language. Several theaters.

The look of sardonic befuddlement that gives John Cusack such genial charm gets a real workout in "1408," a genuinely disturbing and ingenious piece of horror that's as much a brainteaser as it is a feast of visual creativity.

The bulk of "1408" (based on a short story by Stephen King) takes place in a New York City hotel room where noted ghost-hunting author Mike Enslin (Cusack) has come to do research for another chapter in his series of books about haunted houses. Inns and bed-and-breakfasts usually welcome Mike: Their bookings go up after he's written about sightings of the old ladies or little children still lurking in their corridors. Never mind that Mike never believes a word of it.

When he receives a peculiar postcard from the luxury high-rise Dolphin reading simply, "Don't stay in room 1408," Mike is on the hook. But when he calls, the Dolphin does everything it can to keep him out.

Movie review 3 stars


Showtimes and trailer

"1408," with John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Mary McCormack, Jasmine Jessica Anthony. Directed by Mikael Håfström, from a screenplay by Matt Greenberg, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski, based on a short story by Stephen King.

94 minutes. Rated PG-13 for thematic material including disturbing sequences of violence and

terror, frightening images and language. Several theaters.

In a nifty, electric scene between Mike and the hotel manager, Mr. Olin (a small yet suave part for Samuel L. Jackson), we learn more about the gruesome history of 1408 and why the hotel never allows it to be occupied. Since the early 20th century when the Dolphin opened, more than 50 people have died in the room, many in grisly fashion and by their own hand.

We get quick frames of photos and scene-of-the-crime flashback re-enactments of the deaths. This sets an effectively grim tone the movie sustains to the end. In fact, there's very little in the way of tension release; even Cusack's wry delivery of a few clever lines spoken into his tape recorder doesn't produce enough giggles to relieve the serious scares that come in unexpected bursts.

Skeptical Mike won't back down from Olin's warnings and demands 1408. Once in the room, we also learn more of Mike's past in creepy bits and pieces, including the backstory of a dead daughter and broken marriage that becomes integral to his escalating madness.

Olin has told Mike that no one lasts more than an hour in the room, a fact the clock radio confirms as soon as he's in. It's also the only thing that shows a sense of humor, blasting Karen Carpenter's heinous musical warning, "We've Only Just Begun," at inopportune moments.

The hotel room is as much a character as Mike, and the movie's creative team goes all out in keeping its degradation apace with Cusack's. The remarkable transformations it undergoes range from innocuous to colossal, and the smallest bit of décor can turn menacing in an instant. Even changes in lighting and color scheme are related to the strange brew boiling in Mike's mind as the room messes with him in ever-more astonishing and unforeseen ways.

There's no big payoff to the macabre ambiguity that comes and goes in startling waves. But much to its credit, "1408" doesn't cop out to an it-was-all-in-his-head ending; the unreality and extraordinary visual twists will leave you wondering for days.

Ted Fry: tedfry@hotmail.com

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