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Saturday, April 27, 2013

1408 (movie review)




As horror enthusiasts, we often assimilate the true nature of a horror film depicting haunted scenery simply looking on its drastic appearances. These manifestations can be found in common physical settings, such as a dark space with fungus growing, a decaying structure, dusty surface, manifestation of a ghost, etc. However, it is interesting to note that in most of Stephen King’s stories and novels featuring such haunted scenes, the focus of scary sensation doesn't necessarily adhere on the conventional scary features of a haunted environment but rather it is through the combination of these haunted elements and the psychological aberration of the protagonist, emanating mostly in the climax that makes his works worth reading, and also the movie adaptation worth watching.

Two good examples of Stephen King’s stories featuring such haunted hotel having been adapted to film are “The Shining” and “1408”. In these comforting and pleasing surroundings, you would never expect horrifying events, such as bizarre death cases and occupation of different evil spirits, to occur.

In this movie review, the purpose is to identify the different paranormal and psychological elements which were used as an effective way of delivering a good adapted film. The focus is on one of Stephen King’s short stories, “1408”, directed by a Swedish director Mikael Håfström and starring John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, and Mary McCormack. This film was released in the US in 2007 with John Cussack playing the part of the writer Mike Enslin. The elements used in the film are an expansion of the psychological state of mind of the main character as he endures different bizarre phenomena, implicating the embodiment of evil spirits, toying with him for hours in a torture chamber, namely, the room 1408.

Synopsis

Mike Enslin (the protagonist) is a former renowned novelist. He dedicated all of his works to his family. After the death of his daughter Katie (Jasmine Jessica Anthony), he decides to continue his career in writing ghost stories. He becomes obsessed in doing paranormal activity that usually occurs in different haunted hotels. He vigorously finishes his work in a more practical way, provided with different tools for paranormal activities. However, he usually ends up with nothing to share concretely and authentically in his book because he hasn’t yet encountered any sign of ghost. In addition, his attitude as a disbeliever of ghost makes him look like a skeptic writer.

Psychological Element

The film was a little bit slow in terms of building-up the story. Half of the film storyline focuses on main character’s way of life, viewing how he handles his long, restless work as a paranormal writer. During his long stay in LA, he received an anonymous letter informing him to not go to room 1408 of Dolphin Hotel at New York. This intrigued him a lot, as he immediately conducts an investigation which led him to Gerald Olin (Samuel L. Jackson), the hotel manager. The hotel manager tries to convince Mike not to enter the room 1408 by providing him confidential documents, indicating all the series of death cases with unexplainable causes that occurred in that room.

The story starts to build-up and becomes more complex on the part where Mike enters the said room, gradually materializing all the ghosts including the apparition of his dead relatives. Here, in this specific situation, the devil’s presence was evidently manifested through different paranormal activities that served as a form of attack to anyone who would be the room’s occupant.

In the film, the devils usually target their victims’ most vulnerable mind and damaged souls which may cause physical and psychological trauma. Unfortunately, this may result to make a suicide attempt. In Mike‘s case, he recently lost his faith and became spiritually weak after the death of his daughter, Katey. This experience made it easy for the devil to inflict pain both physically and psychologically. Below are some of the snapshot scenes that depicts physical and psychological trauma that Mike has experienced inside the room 1408.

Physical Trauma



Psychological Trauma

Numerical Element (1408)


One of the most remarkable numerical sign that manifested throughout this film is “1408”, the designated numbers of the supposedly haunted hotel room. This number is a reflection of the age-old superstition regarding the number 13, long thought to be unlucky. Some even believe that 13 have been associated with evil spirits. For most of the modern era, this superstitious belief has continued to held, particularly in building construction, from which most of the high-rises lack a 13th floor. In addition, hospitals and hotels have no room number 13. Since the story was set in a hotel, the author may probably take such consideration in following this superstitious belief regarding the building policy, such as avoiding the number 13, more specifically, the lack of a 13th floor or 13th room. Instead, the author may intentionally use the series of numbers which are 1-4-0-8 as an alternate representation for number thirteen from which, when you add-up all the corresponding numbers, the result will end-up in thirteen  (1+4+0+8= 13). It is evident therefore, that the use of number 13 in many horror and science fiction movie has become prominent as means of providing such intriguing and interesting entertainment.  


Element of Time

During the hour that Mike stayed in the room 1408, he gradually lost all sense of time. The antique digital alarm clock that was positioned in the bed, evidenced that all the inexplicable experiences (the encounters with ghosts, his wander to different tormented places, and the exhausting jump to a different time) which he thought had taken for weeks, had in fact been illusions, taking just one hour inside that room.
This digital alarm clock was set automatically to countdown mode, beginning with a display of “60:00”, denoting an hour.  These sixty minutes duration were a key ingredient of the devil’s plan to inflict a sequence of agonizing experiences on his victim, tormenting him to the point where he could no longer handle the time pressure and would contemplate suicide.

Musical Element

In terms of the musical element used in this movie, the only recognizable music that appeared in diegetic manner is the song, “We’ve only just begun” by The Carpenters, which repeatedly played on the radio alarm clock. Here, the music was used as a tool to deliver such messages for the hotel guests in the room 1408, emphasizing the lyrics: “We’ve only just begun, white lace and promises, a kiss for luck and we’re on our way, we’ve only begun…”, which means the room had only just begun, tormenting his victim and there will be more to come.
The lyrics “a kiss for luck and we’re on our way; we’ve only begun” may signify the scene where Mike kisses and embrace his daughter’s apparition, which a moment later turn his daughter into ashes. It generally emphasizes that his daughter is the only treasure that gives him luck but, eventually the devil living inside that room took her again, making his life more miserable. Here, the devil wants to tell him that it was just only the beginning of more sufferings that he will encounter in that room. This particular scenario actually reenacts the same misery that he encounter from his past, from which he lost his daughter due to her illness, seeing how his daughter passed away in vain.

Scary Element

It is wisely that we make an evaluation of the quality of a psychological horror film by means of distinguishing all the scary sensations that mostly strike the viewer’s attention. Here, I will enumerate all the scenes which I think are the scariest part of the movie arranged from the least to greatest impact.



10. This scene was not particularly scary as it uses only classic horror scare factors such as ghosts. Here, we can see the apparition of the former victims of the devil, as they show to the new occupant of the said room, how they died.


9. This scene shows how Mike stumble from the strong emphatic raging waves that burst inside the room.


8. Another scene that provides eerie sensation is in the part where Mike receives several phone calls from the desk hotel, later revealing that all the calls were just made-up by the devil.



7. This scene exhibits how Mike trying to escape from the room 1408. He is trapped inside that room and there is no connection to the outside world. The only getaway options are to either kill himself or endure psychological as well as physical torture that will last for eternity. 



6. This scene scares me in a very specific manner by using the shrill sound of a crying baby.  In this scene, Mike acts as if he cannot handle the piercing sound of the crying baby from the next door.



5. This scene really annoys me; the old creepy woman comes into the scene out of nowhere. Later in the subsequent scenes, it has been told that the woman who attacked Enslin was one of the characters in the paintings hanging in room 1408.



4. This scene exhibits the three paintings with surreal visualization, later revealing in the subsequent scenes that these paintings actually portray chaos and disaster.



3.  This scene really terrifies me- the old model radio digital alarm clock that keeps on playing the song “We’ve only just began” on its own. From the lyrics themselves, you will recognize that this thing is trying to send a message to the room’s occupant.





2. This scene was really creepy- a decaying old man chasing Mike endlessly.





1. If we’re going to say which part is the creepiest part of the whole movie, then I would say it is the part where Mike managed to record the conversation he had with his ghost daughter. In the last part of the movie, the hotel manager was holding Mike’s mini cassette recorder, which remained from his possessions. The manager played the cassette recorder and he was shock after hearing the voice of Katey (the ghost), the daughter of Mike.







Dramatic Element

The dramatic element in the film is seen when the protagonist encounters the apparition of his daughter and father. There is a moment of reconciliation with his father and a moment of acceptance regarding the death of his daughter. As he encounters the ghost of his relatives he felt a sense of longing, wanting to savor all the moments.


Rating

Overall, despite of the slow-building story of this film and some misleading scary scenes which were open to several different ways of interpretation, I would rate this film- 7/10.

Alternate Endings

There were two alternate endings to this film: one ending was when the protagonist somehow survives the incident of the burning hotel. He later discovers an item recovered from the fire scene, a mini cassette tape recorder that had recorded all the previous conversations he had with his ghost daughter. As he plays the cassette aloud, his wife, Lily Enslin (Mary McCormack) hears it, proving that the entire paranormal event which happened in that room (1408) was not an illusion. The other alternate ending suggested that the protagonist, as well as the hotel manager, didn't live through the fire. The eerie part in this ending was when Mike Enslin’s manager, Sam Farrell (Tony Shalhoub) receives manuscript from Enslin himself on the day the fire incident occurred, a manuscript which contained a complete record of all the protagonist’s paranormal experiences.