In a few recent interviews, John Carpenter has all but admitted his disdain for working on films. Although he’s kept up to date with the genre, he seems to have lost his zeal for the creativity that once defined his oeuvre. Scoring? Too much work. Writing? Too much work. By choice, it’s been almost ten years since his last feature – even longer since his last GOOD one – and after attaching himself to as many projects as del Toro, he returns to the cinesphere with The Ward, which proves that he also thinks directing is too much work.
Institutionalized at North Bend Psychiatric Hospital after burning down a farmhouse, Kristen (Amber Heard) struggles to regain her identity and memories as she’s poked and prodded by Dr. Stringer (Jared Harris) and his workers. In an attempt to fit in and seem unsuspicious, she befriends several girls around her age – including Lyndsy Fonseca, Mamie Gummer, Danielle Panabaker, and Laura Leigh – while she plans her escape. Her new acquaintances are as stock-like as possible, ranging from immature and annoying to defensive, but the one thing they all have in common is that they’re covering up what happened to Alice (Mika Boorem) as much as the staff is ignoring the presence of the malevolent spirit she’s turned into.
Set in 1966, the film makes little use of the time period other than showing the now archaic and torturous therapies used on the mental patients. Not that there’s too much the staff does with them since they barely have a presence to begin with, making it hard to consider them an obstacle or much of anything at all. There’s a reason for the cliché characters, absent nurses and lack of rules established for the dark forces at work but in the moment, they add nothing to the mystery of The Ward or the big reveal, which is just as tired and poorly orchestrated as everything that comes before it.
Michael and Shawn Rasmussen’s stale screenplay is the biggest offender, but Carpenter’s rustiness is infinitely more disappointing. He was once a director who knew how to employ tension and suspense, but The Ward feels like it could have been made by anybody; it’s almost as if he’s reverted back into a film student who thinks it’s artistic to point his camera at people jumping out of the shadows while screaming `Boo!’. There are moments when he briefly reminds the audience that, yes, he’s the same guy who made Halloween and The Thing, but they’re far and few between.
The Ward isn’t a particularly great looking film, so it comes as no surprise that its 1080p transfer is just average. The picture is murky and drab looking – thanks to the location and set design – so colors don’t tend to pop since there really isn’t anything eye-catching. The presentation is definitely better than its standard definition counterpart, but there’s nothing really special about it. The DTS-HD 5.1 track, on the other hand, is loud and robust, giving both the sound effects and Mark Kilian’s score their due. Aside from a theatrical trailer, the only special feature is a commentary track featuring Carpenter and Harris. The two talk shop, sharing set stories and production details, but Carpenter sounds bored and Harris comes across like he’s trying to say nice things about a movie he knows isn’t good.
If someone other than Carpenter had been at the helm of The Ward, then no one would be talking about it. It’s stale in every way and while Heard gives the best performance in the film, it’s hard to sympathize with her supposedly confused and vulnerable character when she’s acting like a cigar chomping action star. Fans have been hounding Carpenter for a new feature for years and if his answer was The Ward, then it’s best that he stick with watching basketball and leave the filmmaking to people who actually WANT to make films.
Score: 1/5 Skulls