There was every reason going in to believe that 1408, based on a Stephen King short story, would be nothing but a Shining rip-off made on the cheap. The screenwriters are collectively responsible for Reign of Fire, Problem Child 3, and Agent Cody Banks; John Cusack has proven he’s not above taking a gig for the paycheck; and director Mikael H sole English-language film was the dreadful Derailed. Yet it’s a surprisingly effective movie. Cusack plays a former novelist who, after the death of his daughter, abandons all interest in the living to focus on the dead, writing travel guides with titles like 10 Haunted Hotels. But in Room 1408 of the Dolphin Hotel in Manhattan, he finds his first truly “evil fucking room.” The horror wouldn’t work without Cusack, who makes what could have been a rote acting exercise—Be tough! Now angry! Now defensively funny!—a cathartic ritual instead.

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