Jasmine Kwan 12J
Introducing a film - 1408 (2007)
Exploring the types of fear and horror in 1408 and why they are produced in their ways
1408 is an American psychological horror film based on Stephen King’s short story featured in audiobook collection Blood and Smoke, 1999. The film follows horror novelist/author, Mike Enslin (starring John Cusack) who frequently investigates haunted or paranormal places and locations to find inspiration for his books. He checks in at Room 1408 in the Dolphin Hotel – at first, he does not believe the supernatural allegations that are warned about the room, but soon after settling in, he experiences genuine terror.
Terror is the anticipation and suspense of horror. It is a lot more psychological because the fear originates in the rising anxiety and uncertainty. Horror, which is the physical reaction out of fear or disgust to explicit and gruesome scenes: e.g. shocks and freezes, is much more incapacitating. The distinction between horror and terror is suggested by Ann Radcliffe in her essay titled ‘On the Supernatural in Poetry’ (1826), who is the pioneer of Gothic fiction. In 1408, there is a lot more of terror compared to horror, which makes it so much more agonizingly terrifying when you are watching it since you would always be waiting for something to pop up, ‘jumpscares’, and in this period of waiting time that is all you would be focusing on.
There are a lot of scenes including a flooding of the room that very much confuse the audience’s (as well as Mike’s) perception of reality and time, questioning whether the occurring incidents are actually happening in the realistic space of the hotel room, or if it is only in Mike’s psychological imagination. We experience the terror along with the protagonist, which further elevates the level of fear compared to usual horror films. 1408 can be seen as a gothic film, as it consists of a lot of gothic elements and tropes. The fact that the main character experiences isolation and entrapment suggests that no one would be able to save him if in danger, which is what makes it so eerie and agonizingly frightening. More gothic tropes appear later in the film when a doppelganger of Mike appears in the opposite window of his room, when he is trying to look for help amid the room’s illusions and tricks, with the intention of influencing Mike into committing suicide. The ‘doppelganger’ figure of Mike moves whenever he does, just like a shadow. This can be said as the ‘uncanny’, as Mike’s doppelganger is neither completely familiar/identifiable nor completely different from what his person actually is. It is unsettling and uncomfortable for him since there is ambiguity and genuine fear of being replaced by this doppelganger. German psychiatrist Ernst Jentsch suggests in his essay ‘On the Psychology of the Uncanny’ (1906) that ‘In telling a story, one of the most successful devices for easily creating uncanny effects is to leave the reader in uncertainty as to whether a particular figure in the story is a human being or an automaton.’
1408 is successful in creating an unnerving and creepy atmosphere and tone since it has embodied this ‘rule’ in the film.
At the end of the film, the relieved Mike thought he had escaped the inescapable Room 1408. He figured to write a book about the experiences in the room – while visiting the post office to complete the publishing process, he recognized the construction staff in the post office as the hotel’s staff. They suddenly break the walls of the post office, revealing room 1408 once again. Mike situates in this hellish and inescapable dimension once again. This element of entrapment is included constantly to highlight the fear of not being able to withdraw from the terror and the macabre of 1408. When mentioning macabre, not in the sense of gore and gruesome, but in the sense of disturbance caused by or concerning death. The surrounding sense of death exists throughout the film which is why the audience would feel doomed for Mike and his ‘inevitable’ death. I will not enclose the ending of the film but I
must mention that there are four different endings to this film depending on the version you are watching: the theatrical, the director’s cut and the other ending. This may represent the chaos of Mike’s consciousness because the different endings mirror the possibility that there is a different version of Mike in another dimension(s).
1408 is a must-watch if you are a fan of psychological horror or thrillers, as it explores the almost deepest fear of human – death. It brings me to think about my fears and things I consider important and their reasons. What would you do if you were forced to face your deepest fears?
P.S. Please also watch out for my other upcoming film introductions/reviews if you are interested.