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Who knew The Carpenters could be so terrifying? Apparently Swedish director Mikael Håfström, who took the helm for this adaptation of Steven King's short story, 1408. Whatever scares you are susceptible to-heights, cramped spaces, drowning, 70s-era elevator music-Håfström includes a scene that will have you squirming. And though the plot is mostly of the creaky door, people-jumping-out-of-corners variety, he also delves into themes usually ignored by this genre, like why people continue to be drawn to ghost stories.
Mike Enslin (John Cusack) once had a promising career as a serious novelist, but after his daughter's death drives him to the bottle, he can't muster the ambition for anything more than hack writing about supposedly haunted hotels. But unlike his few fans, Mike isn't interested in them because he's hoping to find proof of the supernatural-he already thinks he knows the answer to that question. He doesn't believe in ghosts any more than he believes in God, and until he checks into room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel, he doesn't see any reason to. Soon enough, though, the room begins to change his mind and has him scrambling for a Bible. As the phantasms put on a nightmare custom-tailored just for him, the hotel's manager (Samuel L. Jackson) reveals that the real reason Mike spends his time debunking myths of spirits and specters is because, in his pain, he enjoys robbing people of their hope in an afterlife.
1408 is hardly reserved in its approach to horror (an R rating would have been more appropriate than the PG-13 it received for frightening images and language), but compared to recent so-called scary movies that revel in the inventive ways cooked up (sometimes literally) to torture characters, 1408 feels like a classic, well-acted haunted house tale. It may not go very deep with some of the bigger questions it asks, but it is interesting that it bothers to ask them.