Reviews: Fourteen Oh Eight

One of King's better takes on Lovecraftian horror, badly translated to film

Stephen King rarely dips into the Lovecraftian well; most of his stories revolve around the strongly drawn, compelling characters which are arguably his greatest strength as a writer. Probably for that very reason, when he does play the "universe full of vast, deadly, incomprehensible horrors" card, it doesn't always work out well for him.

"1408" is one of his better efforts — perhaps his best yet — in this rather difficult realm, largely because it's a lot subtler than, for example, "Crouch End". Instead of explicitly invoking Yog-Sothoth and so forth, King simply draws the reader a concise, compelling picture of a deadly genius loci and lets it speak for itself. The film expands considerably on the source material, and therein lies its fatal flaw; King's story, hardly more than an extended vignette of three characters — Olin, Enslin, and the titular room — gives just enough detail to get the point across, and leaves the rest to the reader.

Unfortunately, the screenwriters fail to recognize that much of the story's virtue lies in its concision; in the effort to eke a feature-length film out of it, they lard it with a lot of unnecessary and pointless fillips that take away most of the punch. The result is a fairly generic and frankly somewhat dull psychological horror flick which, despite a couple of genuinely effective moments, leaves the viewer with no lasting impression save a vague sense of two hours wasted.

The film is an interesting study in cinematography, and possibly of interest to students of the field. The story is worth any reader's time, as is most everything else in Everything's Eventual, the anthology in which it appears.

Straightforward, Generic Horror

1408's plot is relatively straightforward, with the numerous twists the story takes being sadly predictable. This reduces the movie to nothing more than a series of terrible things happening to a man - a potentially engaging narrative, if only the movie gave us any reason to care about the protagonist or his fate. It should be noted that this is no fault of the actor, who gives an excellent performance. And while it is not unusual for a horror movie to have a shallow plot and boring characters, there is nothing in 1408 that is particularly frightening, at least not to anyone who has seen a horror movie or two before.