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1408

Year: 2007
Production Co: Dimension Films
Director: Mikael Håfström
Writer: Stephen King
Cast: John Cusack, Samuel L Jackson, Tony Shalhoub, Mary McCormack
Ask any Stephen King fan who's ever been to the movies; whatever King gets so right in print, directors for the last 40 years have got so wrong (including King himself, after directing the laughable 1985 film Maximum Overdrive based on his own short story Trucks.

There have been exceptions, among them King's non-horror novels-turned films like Frank Darabont's The Shawshank Redemption and Rob Reiner's Stand By Me. Other successes - like Stanley Kubrick's The Shining - have worked because they're rested on the shoulders of gigantic talents.

But now everyone's talking about a previously little-mentioned short from King's 2002 collection Everything's Eventual, about a haunted hotel room. 1408 is director Mikael Håfström's take on the distinctly King-esque idea.

Plenty of King adaptations have failed because they were based on novellas, crippled by extraneous plotting to clumsily pad them out. But 1408 has a great pedigree going for it. Swede Håfström directed 2005's taut Derailed, and the irrepressible, hugely talented John Cusack is front and centre in the action, carrying the movie so single-handedly they had to bill Samuel L Jackson as his co-star despite appearing in only two scenes.

He plays Mike Enslin, the atypical character with a haunted past after losing his daughter several years before and making a living as a writer disproving the paranormal ever since.

When he learns about the spectral reputation of room 1408 of New York's Dolphin Hotel - scene of dozens of grisly murders and suicides - it's an opportunity Enslin can't pass up. Even the affable but determined hotel manager Mr Olin (Jackson) can't talk him out of it, and he occupies the suite supposedly so evil nobody's lived for more than an hour after entering.

Keeping an audience enthralled with a man in a hotel room for 90 minutes is a big ask, and despite patches of obtuse unsubtlety, Cusack and Håfström succeed, the former with a confident command of the camera as he comes increasingly unhinged, the latter using the smallest of devices and an ominous soundtrack to maintain a steady undercurrent of dread.

Everyone knows the catch 22 that nobody does anything in Hollywood until somebody else does it first. In the hands of a competent director unafraid to re-engineer King's set-up in his own style, an actor with a magnetic blend of cynical intelligence and good-guy charm and the format and budget it deserves, 1408 might just be the one to turn things around for history's most successful - but least successfully adapted - author.

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