John Carpenter‘s The Ward is John Carpenter’s first full length film since 2001’s John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars. I am sad to say that it is not the return to form that so many of us had hoped for. It is a psychological horror film that is telegraphed a mile away and sadly doesn’t offer any surprises or scares; it will mainly bore you to tears until the final act of the film. Luckily, the ending to the film doesn’t hurt it, as could have easily been the case.
After burning down a farmhouse in the beginning of the film, Kristen finds herself locked up in a psychiatric hospital, under the care of Dr. Stringer (Jared Harris). She doesn’t believe she is crazy, although she can’t remember why she burned the house down. She soon discovers that there is a ghost stalking the halls and killing the girls one by one. To go into any more detail would completely ruin the film for anyone who actually wants to see it. Let’s just say that the ‘twist’ at the end isn’t that ‘twisty’ and is seen coming from near the beginning of the film.
There are a couple of good things about the film, though. The direction by John Carpenter during the ghost scenes is top notch. The man has a way of building tension and knows just when to pull out a jump scare to get you. I was surprised that this worked on me, but it did. He got me to jump a couple of times, I’m sad to say. The good in that though is tempered by the fact that he can’t build character. I never once found myself engaged with any of the girls or their characters. This leads me to a bad point of the film.
All of the girls are just cookie cutter characters. You have the artist, the child-like girl, the crazy one, the pretty one, and the tough one. While the film can somewhat explain these traits away at the end, it doesn’t create an endearing group that you should care about. When they start getting picked off one by one, I found that I didn’t particularly care about them.
This is why the film is boring, as well. Carpenter spends so much time in the beginning of the film trying to get you to care about these cookie cutter characters, and failing, that the action and terror hits too late. By the time they are disappearing, I found that it couldn’t save the film for me. I didn’t care enough about them to be moved, and frankly, didn’t like them. That steals a lot of the terror from the film. How can you be scared for someone if you don’t like them enough to care about them?
The performance aren’t terrible, though, and that is a good thing that helps the film a bit. The group of girls all attempt to play their personality trait the best they can, and all succeed. There is nary a terrible performance to be found in this film. Jared Harris (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) turns in a solid performance as Dr. Stringer, who is the red herring of this piece. You think he is the ‘bad guy’ until the end and the explanation scene, which I will not discuss here for fear of spoilers.
Of particular note was the design of the ghost creature. I really dug the design of the ghost, especially in the close ups. You have to see it, but it was like there were worms or something crawling under the skin. It was an interesting design choice that I think worked especially well. It was certainly creepy, without being too over the top or disgusting.
When all is said and done, however, I was not terribly impressed by John Carpenter’s The Ward. As a director, John Carpenter has always been hit and miss. When he hits, he hits hard (Halloween, Escape from New York, The Thing). When he misses . . .well, sometimes it’s best to block the memory from your brain (Prince of Darkness, In the Mouth of Madness, Ghosts of Mars). As a director, though, he is always interesting and it is always worth your time to see his work.
While it is nice to see a newer film by John Carpenter, it is kind of sad that it couldn’t have been a better film. While not terrible, it is not exactly the return to form that I had hoped for. There were a few nice jump scares to be had, and the second half of the film is much, much better than the first. The ending is also better than I expected. While I can’t wholeheartedly recommend this film, I can say that if you are looking for a psychological horror film for the Halloween holiday, you could do worse than this. You could also do better.
** out of ****
- John Carpenter’s Halloween returning to theaters for Halloween!!! (bizzammovienews.com)