Iconic filmmaker John Carpenter heads back to the world of feature films after a long hiatus to unfortunate results with this bland supernatural tale. Back are some of the director’s signature moves -- the slow dolly shots of the corridors are pure mood-building Carpenter all the way, yet his uniquely deliberate pace backfires here. Chalk it up to the lame mystery at the pic’s core or the equally tiresome torture scenes that conclude each character’s screen time, but The Ward feels stale -- as if it were made by someone who’s not really sure if he should be spooking out his audience or just playing the gross-out card. By the time the twist comes around in the final moments, audiences might be wondering why Carpenter even decided to make this inherently disposable project.
Amber Heard heads up the cast as Kristin, a teenaged delinquent in the 1960s who gets thrown in a women’s-only loony bin after setting fire to a house. There she meets a gaggle of young women, all messed in the head in one way or another; the only tie between them is that they won’t speak of the previous patient on their block, Alice. Meanwhile, Kristin dismays Dr. Stringer (Jared Harris) with her reluctance to accept normal therapy when she’s not trying to break out of the institution, forcing him to revert to shock therapy to get through to her. Soon, one by one, the girls’ numbers dwindle as each is visited by a malevolent force hell-bent on brutally punishing them for a crime they dare not discuss.
While some forgiving audiences have chalked up The Ward’s unexceptional nature to it being “old school,” the fact is that it’s more tired than it is a throwback to, say, The Haunting -- or even one of the Master’s own gems, The Fog. By the time the spooky “ghost” shows her ugly mug, Carpenter has relied too much on misdirection -- a trick that’s good for one scare and that’s about it. To the director’s credit, the film looks good, unlike his last Masters of Horror outing, the flat-looking and truly dreadful Pro-Life. When it really comes down to it, the worst thing about The Ward is that there are truckloads of movies just like it -- all low-budget, all set in the same kind of asylum. Straight up, John Carpenter is better than this -- and so are the majority of other horror flicks out there.
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