The Ward

Viewed – 18 December 2011  Blu-ray

At one time, the name John Carpenter was a seal of quality.  During the late seventies and much of the eighties, the acclaimed director was responsible for some of the most enjoyable and well-crafted movies out there, including gems like Halloween, The Thing, Escape From New York and Big Trouble In Little China.  I’ll even add the much underrated In The Mouth Of Madness to that list.  Seriously, he barely put a foot wrong.  Then with the dawn of the nineties, his output began to get much less critical and commercial acclaim … and ever since, the director has struggled to get his mojo back.

So this recent directorial outing caught my eye, and has been hyped in some quarters as Carpenter’s big come back.  Telling the tale of Kristen (the increasingly likable Amber Heard), who following the burning down of a house, is committed to a psychiatric hospital.  There she meets a group of girls all with their own problems.  Yet along with the oppressive nurses, orderlies and a nice but creepy doctor, there is a malevolent spirit lurking in the corridors, who begins to kill off the girls one by one.

This is very clichéd material, but is shot with a degree of style and foreboding atmosphere.  Carpenter still knows how to crank up the tension and deliver some well timed jump-scares, but with a female, living-dead villain and personality-free characters this offers very little that hasn’t been done before – and better.  The movie does improve during the closing moments and offers up some good ideas, but by then it feels like the director or scriptwriter suddenly realised how unimaginative their movie was, and quickly tacked on a ‘look how clever we are’ ending – which in fact, isn’t all that clever, and I’m sure has been done before.

On its own merits, its entertaining and at a mere 88 minutes, doesn’t exactly out-stay it’s welcome.  But for a movie by John Carpenter, this is woefully inadequate and painfully formulaic.  He used to be ‘the man’.  Now it’s obvious, he’s become just another has-been.  Very sad.

Verdict:  2.5 /5

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