What begins as a suspenseful meditation on the meaning of haunted places turns into a spectacle of CGI effects. Based on a Stephen King short story, 1408 is a mediocre adaptation with themes and a protagonist familiar to King readers.
John Cusack stars as Mike Enslin, a writer who visits haunted places and writes about them. I suppose that would be a dream job for many, but Enslin seems bored and unhappy with his work. We learn he once had literary ambitions, but now makes his living as a hack. He learns about a room 1408 at The Dolphin in New York City, a room with a dark history of violent deaths.
The opening scenes set up the story well. Cusack plays the disgruntled writer well enough as he skeptically takes on a new assignment. The hotel's owner, brilliantly played by Samuel L. Jackson, bringing the right combination of mystery and menace, warns Mike not to stay in the room. Their scene is the best in the film, with echoes of another Stephen King film The Shining.
Once in the room there's a steady build up of suspense, not unlike a Twilight Zone episode. Then somewhere along the line we enter into Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion territory, an onslaught of CGI that makes for an underwhelming second half.
The performances and pristine production design make 1408 worth watching, a safe PG-13 horror movie that's more thrill ride than scare fest.