The Ward (2010, directed by John Carpenter, 88 minutes,, U.S.)
BY DAN BUSKIRK FILM CRITIC
John Carpenter, director of such genre classics as Halloween, Escape from New York, and the soon-to-be revamped The Thing, is the big guest at this year’s Cinefest. He’ll be receiving the Phantasmagoria Award at an event Monday night at the Troc, where he’ll be interviewed via Skype along with a screening of his 1986 cult favorite Big Trouble in Little China. Carpenter’s films aren’t strongly driven by any auteurist obsessions but he has directed a long run of genre films full of intelligence and original premises. It has been nine years since his last feature (the pretty so-so Ghosts of Mars) so it’s a disappointment to report that his latest, The Ward, is a faceless work that may be his least-interesting film to date.
Kristen (Amber Heard of Drive Angry) is seen running wild in a slip in the opening, when she stops and burns down an old farm house. She’s dragged off to a mental institution, one that apparently only caters to attractive young females. Kristen must ingratiate herself to her fellow inmates and solve the mystery of the ghost who is haunting the ward. The film is full of tentative performances, the best of which might be from Mamie Gummer (Meryl Streep’s long-nosed daughter) as the half-there Emily but what is most shocking is the absence of any surprises along the way. The film “scares” are all predictably choreographed (just when things calm down….”Boo!”) and the brilliance of long-time Carpenter cinematographer Dean Cundley is sorely missed. Occasionally you’ll hear the electronic pulse that hints at Carpenter’s patented music cues but even that is false, as Carpenter handed the scoring duties to unknown Mark Kilian. If watching an old hero flounder like this wasn’t bad enough, the film cops its surprise ending from another recent mental ward hit. You’re left with the feeling that Carpenter really wasn’t willing to commit himself to The Ward.
The Ward screens Saturday April 9th at 11:59 at the Ritz East. John Carpenter receives the Phantasmagoria Award Monday April 11th, 8:00pm at the Trocadero