TheWardThis may seem like just another trashy potboiler of the type you see dozens of each year, and in many respects that’s just what it is. THE WARD’S sole importance lies in the fact that it’s the iconic John Carpenter’s first feature film in nearly a decade.

This 2010 low budgeter follows John Carpenter’s disappointing sci fi/action/horror pastiche GHOSTS OF MARS (2001). THE WARD would seem to be more in line with Carpenter’s sensibilities, yet, despite nostalgic critics who proclaimed it the great man’s “comeback,” it’s another disappointment. The film had a fairly strong publicity push in the horror community but was given a thoroughly perfunctory release theatrically and on DVD.

Kristen is a severely disturbed blond who’s shut up in a mental ward after burning down a farm house. Having forgotten the reason for her actions, Kristen focuses on surviving in this hostile environment. It doesn’t help that she’s constantly assailed by horrific flashbacks involving torture and confinement!

While incarcerated Kristen gets to know her fellow inmates. Among them is the mousey Iris, a compulsive sketcher who’s about to be let free–or so it seems. On her way out of the ward Iris is overpowered by an unseen someone, who straps her to a chair and stabs her through the eyeball with a deadly syringe.

Kristen becomes convinced that the ghost of a murdered inmate named Alice is haunting the ward. Kristen attempts to track down Alice, and break out of the ward while she’s at it, but fails in both endeavors. In the meantime another fellow inmate, the pretty brunette Sara, is strapped to a table and electrocuted—and another, the blonde Emily, has her throat slashed.

Kristen and her pal Zoey, the only other remaining inmate, attempt a second escape but are thwarted when Zoey is killed by the shadowy psychopath who did in her companions. This leaves Kristen, who’s about to discover something rather important about herself and the ward.

Looking for glimpses of John Carpenter’s (former) genius for horror and suspense? You won’t find too many in THE WARD, an obvious and uninspired programmer through and through. The film has a slick and good-looking veneer, but beyond that it’s hard to discern any trace of the John Carpenter of HALLOWEEN or THE THING herein.

Unlike nearly all of Carpenter’s other films, this one was not lensed in Panavision, and has thoroughly generic music by Mark Kilian in place of the striking minimalist scores of Carpenter’s other films. Shopworn genre clichés—flashing lightning, noisy music cues, etc.—are utilized throughout, and the performers appear to have been encouraged to overact shamelessly. If this film resembles anything it’s the Rick Rosenthal directed HALLOWEEN II in its hospital setting and emphasis on splatter, and that’s not a good thing (HALLOWEEN II being a film Carpenter admittedly

The screenplay by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen is confusing, with too many disparate narrative strands (the heroine’s mental problems and those of her fellow inmates, the possibility of a ghost and/or psycho on the loose, the story of the murdered girl, etc). The script is also plain lazy in its inattention to detail: would the overseers of a mental ward really leave a sharp paper cutter lying around for the heroine to steal, or forget to lock the door to the ward pharmacy? Those things, by the way, aren’t justified by the twist ending, which resembles those of IDENTITY (2003) and SHUTTER ISLAND (2010) in the way it transforms a seemingly straightforward and realistic account into a psychological reverie. Again, though, that doesn’t excuse the script’s many inconsistencies, or the film’s overall blandness.

Vital Statistics

Chamberlain Films/A Bigger Boat

Director: John Carpenter
Producers: Peter Block, Doug Mankoff, Mike Marcus, Andrew Spaulding
Screenplay: Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen
Cinematography: Yaron Orbach
Editing: Patrick McMahon
Cast: Amber Heard, Mamie Gummer, Danielle Panabaker, Laura-Leigh, Lyndsy Fonesca, Jared Harris, Sali Sayler, Susanna Burney, D.R. Anderson, Sean Cook, Jillian Kramer