Thursday, October 4, 2007

Spoiler Alert? I'd be doing you a favour

I've just watched the worst film of the year - "1408" by director Mikael Håfström. I know that there was no reason to expect a horror film based on a short story by Stephen King would be anything but crap, but I went in with exceptionally low expectations and still found myself cursing the screen. Plus it had been well-reviewed in the Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Newsday, Variety, The Village Voice and a slew of other papers. It has a 77% rating at Rotten Tomatoes. 7% would have been generous. If I hadn't downloaded it for free, I'd be asking for a refund.

It follows the standard Stephen King approach: find something to haunt (a car, a dog, a photocopier, a hotel), haunt it, exhaust all the possibilities, and roll the credits. It borrows liberally from hundreds of other films as diverse as "The Stepford Wives", "Amityville Horror", "Groundhog Day", and King's own "The Shining", yet gains nothing in the process. A slumming John Cusack is in virtually every frame of the film, and mostly only him. He plays a horror writer (yeesh!) with a few lines of backstory in a half-ass attempt to make us care about his predicament (ex-wife, estranged father, dead daughter). Second billed is Samuel Jackson, who is on screen for maybe a total of ten minutes (which is more than all of the other remaining characters combined). The middle hour of the film is spent watching Cusack alone in a hotel room. Worse, it unfolds in real time, complete with a digital count-down to remind us how much more we must endure.

Every possible cliche is paraded onscreen: a bible with blank pages, appliances that function after their plugs are pulled, windows that slam themselves shut, faucets that dispense boiling hot water, faucets that dispense blood, phones that melt, thermostats that control themselves, doors that lock themselves, a television that plays poignant moments from the protagonists life, ad nauseam. Then things really get out of hand: walls bleed and collapse, passageways extend to nowhere, hell freezes over. The original conceits (is it a hoax perpetrated by the hotel staff, is it all in his head?) become irrelevant as silly vignette follows silly vignette.

There's the standard (since "The Sixth Sense", anyway) false-ending and the inevitable 'journey' of the lead, who deals with the 'demons' in his closet, overcomes his cynical selfish ways and saves the hotel in the process (by lighting it ablaze, long after it had already been charred or frozen or caved in or whatever other things the CGI crew could dream up). There are maybe three genuinely frightening moments in the film, and two of them were a song by the Carpenters.*

Both of these actors have a tendency to chose roles based on the paycheck more than the script, but this is even worse than that SLJ film in which he played a crime-fighting homeless concert pianist, and worse than the JC film in which he played Hitler's art dealer and set off the Holocaust by arriving late to a meeting where Adolf intended to present the Third Reich as a conceptual art project. I'm not kidding about either of those descriptions, by the way.

1408 is not appropriate even as dumb summer fun (the summer's over and it's all dumb and no fun), not even acceptable as a harmless time waster.

*The band's 1970 single "We've Only Just Begun", which is actually a cover of a bank commercial. Again, I'm not kidding.

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