It’s doubtless a little harsh to put John Cusack in the same league as the likes of Ben Affleck in terms of career dives. He has, after all, been making at least a couple of films a year for the last few years. But at the same time, it’s hard not to feel that none of them have really lived up to the hype that surrounded him towards the end of the 1990s. As the new century dawned, Cusack seemed to be the new darling of Hollywood. The masses adored him in the likes of High Fidelity and Gross Point Blank, and his experimentally bizarre turn in Being John Malkovich showed that he was more than willing to take risks.
The strange thing is, he’s continued to make eclectic career choices for the last few years, appearing in everything from romantic comedies to historical biopics, crime capers to action thrillers. Yet none of the films he’s made since around the year 2000 have quite had that “wow” factor of some of his late-1990s performances – the closest probably being the little-seen 2003 thriller Identity.
Cusack’s latest is another characteristic departure from the sorts of films he’s done before – a horror movie. It’s an odd choice for such a big name – horror traditionally having been looked down on in Hollywood as a little too cheesy. But the continued successes of horror movies of late – especially thanks to the boom in interest caused by the successes of Korean and Japanese horror flicks, many of which have ended up having Hollywood remakes – means that this could prove a success. If horror movies become respectable even for the big stars, and shake off their B-movie status, then the careers of A-listers like Cusack could well get a lot more interesting.
Here, Cusack plays a highly sceptical paranormal investigator who has somehow managed to make a living by travelling around the place disproving ghost stories. A bit of a spoilsport, you might say – but fear not, this is a movie, so naturally enough his latest investigation is going to turn out to be something altogether more inexplicable.
The fact that this is based on a short story by horror maestro Stephen King should tell you to expect something a bit better than your average shocker. Set in an exclusive hotel, the title refers to the number of the room in which Cusack’s investigator is determined to spend the night – a room so haunted that the manager refuses to accept responsibility for what might happen within, and turns guests away rather than let them stay.
The intriguing – and welcome – thing about 1408 is not in its originality, as it is, after all, merely another retelling of the classic haunted house tale. It’s that it manages to create a decent amount of suspense and terror without the need for the kind of over-the-top, explicitly disgusting gore of recent American horror flicks like the Saw and Hostel franchises. It’s a horror film after the traditional mould, and – most refreshingly – proud of it, unlike the late-1990s glut of horror parodies like the Scream and Scary Movie series. In short, this could indicate that Hollywood has rediscovered its faith in old-school ghost stories – and that can surely only be a good thing.