Michael Enslin (John Cusack) is a writer who specialises in travel guides on true life tales of haunted houses, hotels and graveyards. Tonight he visits what is supposedly yet another ghost-infested inn, but to him it's just another chapter in yet another book, and he can't wait to get the key from the innkeepers and enter their most notorious room for the evening. Predictably, the hours pass without incident but Enslin will write about the history of the place anyway; it's become a routine for him. Will anything shake his complacency?
Bestselling horror author Stephen King had visited haunted hotel rooms before, in his fiction at any rate, the most celebrated one being the room in The Shining, both film and book. 1408 was another such bad place, and adapted from the short story by Matt Greenberg, Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewksi, the latter two best known for teaming up on cult nineties biopics. This would be supernatural rather than real life territory of course, being that old old tale of the sceptic receiving a life changing experience that naturally made him alter his perceptions.
You can see why Cusack decided to accept this job, as it's nothing less than a showcase for his talents. He gets to be funny, act tough, cry and many other things to exhibit his range; he's in just about every scene to boot. Indeed for most of the the last hour of this it's simply Cusack emoting in the room of the title. How does he get there? When he receives a postcard in the mail telling him in no uncertain terms not to go to New York City's Dolphin Hotel and definitely don't visit Room 1408, how can he resist?
Besides, there are strong hints that Enslin's metier is getting old hat, and he needs a publicity boost judging by the meagre amount of fans who turn up for his latest book signing. So he meets with the Dolphin manager (Samuel L. Jackson, scene stealing in a brief appearance) and persuades him to let him spend the night there, despite hearing many horror stories about the number of people who have died mysteriously in there. Could our hero be the next victim or will his hardnosed journalism win out?
What Enslin needs is his faith back, and it's when he's locked in 1408 and finding all rationality slipping away that he regains it through various things: alcohol, sanity, his wife and perhaps the family he that he used to rely on but which was cruelly taken away. It's a pity the filmmakers have to go so far over the top, because there are some nice tricks up their sleeve when they're not overstating their case. A creepy clock radio counting down the hour and occasionally blasting out the now-menacing "We've Only Just Begun" by the Carpenters spells out the room's message to Enslin, but eventually it's all pictures coming to life, murderous apparitions and mind and space-bending effects, which is fun but not really unsettling; there's a poignant little chiller hidden inside this noisy lot somewhere. Music by Gabriel Yared.