Monday, January 26, 2009
Stephen King never ceases to amaze me with the stuff he can come up with. The way that King manages to layer his books with different levels of terror while toying with his readers shows a degree of sophistication often absent within the thriller genre. There are differing degrees of terror. There are a variety of ways to engage a reader or movie-goer with a scary story. King has mastered his art with a confidence that allows him to take ordinary ideas and make them extraordinary. 1408 is no different. In 1408, King manages to keep his viewers guessing while keeping them gripping the edge of their chair.
1408 tells the story of a writer, Mike Enslin (John Cusack), who makes his living off the haunted hotel circuit. Enslin’s books about haunted places provide him a meager living, evidenced by the degree of reception he draws at his book signings which is equally meager. In his work, Enslin has witnessed the hype of forlorn “off the beaten path” hotel owners who will do anything to book rooms. Enslin has grown jaded, failing to experience the paranormal to the point of exhaustion. He keeps an unlit cigarette lit in the event things ever get interesting. His cigarette has seen many hotel rooms.
Enslin becomes intrigued by the ploy used by the Dolphin Hotel. A simple postcard from the hotel shows up in Enslin’s post office box indicating that he should (or should not) stay in room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel. When Enslin calls the hotel to make a reservation and specifically requests room 1408, he is told that the room is unavailable. Whatever date Enslin provides the hotel indicates the room is still unavailable. After suing the hotel, Enslin is granted permission to spend the night in room 1408. Upon arrival at the hotel, the proprietor, Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson), is notified that Enslin is attempting to check in. Enslin is escorted into Olin’s office. Olin immediately attempts to convince Enslin of the folly in his request. Enslin sees the entire episode as a hard-sell to build his suspense before allowing him to check into room 1408.
Olin finally concedes and advises Enslin regarding the history of the room, which Enslin quickly recites back. Olin then makes Enslin aware of the multitude of deaths that were not reported in the newspapers because they were considered natural causes. Enslin is undeterred by the history of room 1408 and declines Olin’s offer of a Penthouse upgrade and an expensive bottle of Cognac. Olin allows Enslin to keep the bottle of Cognac regardless…after all, it may be Enslin’s last guilty pleasure. Upon entering the room, Enlin’s entire reality is turned upside down in a series of events that quickly make it apparent to him that he is no longer in control. Enslin is committed to beating the room but he is up against an unstoppable force. The question then becomes “what can I believe?”
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