TIFF Movie Review: John Carpenter’s The Ward

John Carpenter is a celebrated filmmaker who frequently has worked in the sci-fi and horror genres. He is one of the brand name filmmakers from the 1970′s-80′s. His filmography includes Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, The Fog, Escape From New York, The Thing, Starman, Big Trouble in Little China, They Live, many of which have already been remade or are currently in development for a big screen redo. Carptener’s career hit a slump in the 1990′s with films like Memoirs of an Invisible Man, Village of the Damned, Escape from LA, Vampire$ and. Ghosts of Mars. Carpenter has not made a feature film in almost nine years.

This year at the Toronto International Film Festival, Carpenter makes his return to the big screen with a film called The Ward. Does this mark a triumphant return for Carpenter? Unfortunately not.

Written by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen (whose only other produced credit in the 2005 indie thriller Long Distance), the story follows a young woman named Kristen (played by Amber Heard) who is institutionalized after apparently setting fire to a house. Once inside “the ward,” Kristen becomes terrorized by a ghost of a former patient.

The plot is beyond derivative, and functions only so that Carpenter can serve unexplained jump scares at the audience (shocking reveals with loud musical cues). The film is shot in a more old-fashioned approach, which comes off more stilted than nostalgic. But who knows, the film might have worked a lot better in the 1980′s.

Kristen’s psychotic inmates are all, like herself, beautiful young women, the ugliest of which could maybe pass for a young version of Lauren Dern. Of course, this can be reasoned later in the plot to some degree (although I think it would be not much more than an excuse). But still, it all appears to be an excuse to shoot a shower sequence with all of the young women — which don’t get me wrong, I’m not against this sort of exploitation in genre films, but this serves almost no purpose and features no real nudity.

The ghost which is the center focus of the movie isn’t even remotely scary, and it doesn’t help that her make-up effects look poorly crafted (even for a lower budget independent feature). The story concludes with one of the most ridiculous twists, but not so ridiculous that you won’t see it coming from a mile away. Better filmmakers have pulled this ending off with much more believably in the last few years.

Heard is the highlight of the movie – her performance is believable even when the situation is not. Heard did the best she could with the material provided to her.  The other characters are not much more than tired archetypes we’ve seen in movies time and time again. The movie works fine as a direct-to-dvd horror film, but will probably be judged harshly against Carpenter’s acclaimed past efforts. I’m trying not to do that, although the reason I decided to screen the film was because of Carpenter’s involvement. I think almost everyone will agree this is not on par with his previous filmography, even his subpar 90′s work.

I said on Twitter that The Ward might be the worst feature film I’ve watched theatrically this year. Let me clarify a couple points, as one of my colleagues took question to this comment — I have not, and have no plans, to see every movie released in 2010. Many of my colleagues have seen and reviewed all the major releases this year. And this is certainly not the worst movie released this year or any year.

They have seen supposed clunkers like Vampires Suck, Valentine’s Day or Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore. I’m sure some of those films pose a challenge to sit through, and I don’t plan on testing my patience. I don’t see them all but I see more movies a month than most average people see theatrically in a year. But I have seen films some of my twitter followers have outted as some of the year’s worst: Cop Out, The Last Airbender, and Robin Hood. The most I can say is that those films were more enjoyable to me than The Ward.

That said, I feel bad for having said this publicly as the film has yet to secure distribution (something I was not aware of when I tweeted my comment). The worse case scenerio, this film will go direct to DVD and VOD. Like I said earlier, Carpenter is still a name brand, even if that is wearing thin.

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About the Author

Peter Sciretta is a film geek and popcultured fanboy living in Los Angeles. He created /Film in 2005.

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