Directed by John Carpenter
For nearly a decade loyal horror aficionados have been patiently waiting for John Carpenter to return to the director’s chair since the horror scene has had a resurgence of popularity in the past few years. Considering the revival of the horror genre has also been mauled by countless remakes and sequels, it was relieving to hear that one of the Masters of Horror had finally decided to come out of his nine-year hiatus and grace fans with his much needed presence to film a new supernatural thriller.
John Carpenter’s The Ward begins with Kristen (Amber Heard) being taken against her will to an insane asylum after burning a house down. During her stay at the asylum, four other female patients located in the same ward befriend her, but when a few spooky occurrences eventually lead to the unexplained disappearance of some of the girls, Kristen soon discovers the patients and doctors know far more than they are letting on and must find out the truth before she becomes the ward’s next victim. A “been there, done that” ghost story ensues.
Ten years ago this would have been a cash cow horror film Sarah Michelle Gellar would have done on hiatus from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, but in 2010 this horror film is something that will be mocked by many for simply being outdated and truly uninspired. Those expecting a nostalgic throwback to Carpenter’s early work better prepare themselves for heartache because the director surprisingly didn’t write the script (The Ward was written by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen) nor did he provide a trademark score for the film, making his name in front of the title seem like a contractual obligation rather than a valid fact.
Don’t get me wrong; The Ward is chock-full of ear-piercing jumpers and features solid effects and a couple of death scenes by KNB that will surely keep fans mildly engaged (loved the nod to Lucio Fulci’s Zombi 2), but the J-horror scares have been done to death and the clichéd moments of terror should be expected from a schlocky music video director, not from a legendary, if not the best, living horror director out there today. There are moments in which viewers may feel like Carpenter opted to direct a psychological satire rather than a straight thriller (which would be far more clever than what the film aims to be); however, there are far too many moments where the film takes itself too seriously to convince this reviewer otherwise.
One thing is for sure though; all the actors were spot on with their performances. Amber Heard trades in her usual scanty wardrobe for tight “Brenda Walsh jeans” and gives her strongest performance since she broke out in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane as the film’s leading “Sarah Connor-like” protagonist. Danielle Panabaker, Lyndsy Fonesca and Laura-Leigh also did well in their roles; however, it was Mamie Gummer’s performance as the eccentric Emily that will definitely win over audiences the most.
John Carpenter’s The Ward is a mediocre thriller that lacks any true original scares and blatantly rips off a twist ending from a far better film. (Screenwriter Michael Cooney must be seeing red right now.) It is definitely not Carpenter’s best work to date as it lacks the stunning sounds, visual aesthetics and creativity his previous films all seem to offer although, unlike horror veterans George Romero and Dario Argento, Carpenter proves that he is still a capable and talented director despite The Ward’s many drawbacks. He’s just a tad bit rusty —- and that can easily be fixed in his next entry.
3 1/2 out of 5
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