Editor’s note: Beware of spoilers that I attempted to keep vague
John Carpenter has dominated the horror genre for nearly 30 years, and oddly enough hasn’t directed a feature in almost a decade. After watching so many other greats struggle over the past decade, Carpenter has eluded criticism by avoiding the camera (sans the two awesome “Masters of Horror” episodes) – but now he’s front and center with The Ward, his new horror starring Amber Heard, Danielle Panabaker and Jared Harris.
While the entire feature is damaged from poor cinematography, the first act is quite promising as Amber Heard is discovered burning down a house and thus locked in a ward for psychiatric evaluations. She has no idea who she is and almost immediately begins to have weird experiences. Carpenter hones in on his roots with his blocking and eerie sequences (such as a beautiful homage to Halloween 2 where Myers appears out of thin air). The early mystery engages the audience just enough to push them on to the second act, which is where things begin to fall apart.
Beyond the poor lighting and overly staged set pieces (actors even miss a few cues), the real problem stems directly from Michael and Shawn Rasmussen’s screenplay. The biggest offense the story makes is forgetting to establish rules for the ghost. A few examples: How does it obtain a victim, can it touch the victim, and why does it like to use the medical instruments as weapons? Even more frustrating are the completely unlikable (and some annoying) characters, all of which you pray will die. Even Amber Heard has issues as her character is suffering from amnesia, which makes her faceless. Her acting is fine as she carries the movie on her shoulders, but it’s hard to care about her fate when you know absolutely nothing about her.
Spoiler Warning. But the real shocker is the grand finale, an ending so trite that this script must have been circling Hollywood for at least a decade. I don’t want to reference any comparable movies, as it’ll give away the finale, but let’s just say that at one point there’s a character that explains everything in an exposition heavy sequence. What’s worse is that a major lesson we’ve learned over the years is completely neglected forcing an ending that’s on par with “it was all just a dream.” End Spoiler
The Ward is a disappointing return for Carpenter that forgets to establish exactly what kind of horror it is. The scares are too physical, or even worse, not at all (there’s a moment when the ghost is in a laundry elevator shaft with one of the girls, and then when Amber gets in nothing happens). Carpenter enthusiasts might find solace in his return to the big screen, but ultimately the mass majority of horror fans will be disappointed.