In the old days, this would have been called Doom Room or maybe Suite of Terror, and I would have been watching it on the 10:30 p.m. Shock Theatre late show on Channel 13 out of Colorado Springs. In fact, I found its basic lack of ambition refreshing. Stretched to an almost ridiculous length, the two-handed sequence anchoring the first half of this film — in which Sam Jackson methodically employs a cold stare and fine liquor in an effort to dissuade the imperturbable John Cusack from spending a night in the clutches of hotel room 1408 — is one of the more riveting stretches of pop cinema I’ve seen all year. It does a fine job of ratcheting up the tension surrounding Cusack’s arrival in reputedly lethal accommodations. And the ferocious window-slamming, faucet-spewing scene where Hell Hotel first starts to bite, smearing Cusack’s blood across windowsill and wall, is pretty invigorating. It’s only when the proceedings turn to maudlin “psychological horror”, as he faces the manifestations of his estranged father and dead daughter, that the film turns tiresome.
Benoit Delhomme’s cinematography is surprisingly lush, and counter to the norm for horror. Instead of employing negative space and chiaroscuro shadows, he goes for exceptionally clear images and tweaked-out, saturated colors. And, more than anything, a few of the scenes made me feel the way actual bad dreams do, which had to be the intended effect. (When I saw this, I was on pretty heavy medication, which may have had something to do with the efficacy of the images.) But there’s a whole lot of stuff in the lazy, floppy, increasingly garish second half that just doesn’t work, as the film gives up on adhering to any kind of logic and just turns into a vigorous round of humble-the-unbeliever. Still, I enjoyed Cusack’s fearless, highly entertaining performance — either he’s too committed to realize how silly some of this shit is, or he just doesn’t care. I wouldn’t call it a good movie, exactly, but I had a good time watching it.