Motel Hell

Dir. Mikael Håfström, writ. Matt Greenberg, Scott Alexander, Larry Karaszewski, Stephen King (short story); feat. John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Mary McCormack, Jasmine Jessica Anthony (R)
Big-screen Stephen King adaptations haven’t been too hot of late. Flicks like Hearts in Atlantis, Dreamcatcher, and The Secret Window have done nothing but contribute to the increase in Netflix subscriptions by giving people reasons not to go to the movies. Lucky for King, the trend looks to be changing as directors Frank Darabont, Eli Roth, and George A. Romero all have upcoming King projects. If you’re not willing to wait to be scared shitless, though, then you should check out horror-suspense gem 1408 — even if common sense tells you to stay away from yet another attempt to exploit King for box-office paydays.

John Cusack — who mysteriously maintains the illusion of artistic integrity even though he ever-more-regularly stars in some of the cheapest formula movies Hollywood churns out (Must Love Dogs, Runaway Jury, Serendipity, America’s Sweethearts … need I go on?) — plays ghost debunker Mike Enslin in this adaptation of a little-known King short story.

Still grieving a year after the death of his daughter, Enslin resides in Southern California and earns his living writing bargain-bookstore-quality tour diaries of haunted-hotel experiences, or rather the lack of a haunted experience since, after all, he doesn’t believe in any of that hooey because he lost his faith when his daughter died — shock.

A mystery invitation to visit the Dolphin Hotel in New York City — where his wife resides, whom he hasn’t spoken with since their mutual loss — is about to change that, though. The mystery grows even deeper when Enslin discovers that the hotel management has no interest in exploiting his talents for attracting ghost tourism. Thanks to a legal loophole, though, the Dolphin has to provide Enslin the room, which doesn’t please hotel manager Mr. Olin. Samuel L. Jackson plays this minor but important role without the expected creepiness. but instead as a man who has seen so much weirdness in his career that he’s willing to do whatever it takes to avoid further weirdness. Enslin mistakes this “unwillingness” to cooperate as part of the scare factor Olin wants to build. Olin, however, really just doesn’t want to have to clean up the room after Enslin’s inevitable death. When Enslin asks if the room’s haunted for real then, Olin explains, “It’s just an evil fucking room.” Classic Sam Jackson.

The scares mount slowly and then barrel at you after that. Unable to exit the room, Enslin finds himself in his own personal mental torture chamber that may or may not be the manifestation of the seven rings of hell. It would be wrong to reveal the plot entirely, but let’s just say that there are plenty of reasons to jump and, more often than not, your heart will race. Of course, Enslin’s daughter returns as an aspect of his hell, but that’s to be expected. The ending delivers, but only barely; fortunately, the final act isn’t weak enough to undermine the thrills that get you there.

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