After an all-to-long 10 year break from filmmaking, John Carpenter is back with his latest, the supernatural thriller The Ward. His last film was 2001’s critically-panned Ghosts of Mars. He has said in recent interviews the 10 year break came about due to his general feelings of burn out after making films for 30 straight years. Many fans believed his first offering in 10 years would be a return to form for the master of 1980’s genre films. For the most part, that is the result, all the flash and pizzaz of Carpenter’s previous films is back for a new story. The story, however, is the major fault in this film. The plot seems borrowed and retooled from many other previous films, most notably Lucky McKee’s underrated horror film from 2006, The Woods.
Amber Heard, a new Hollywood “it” girl, plays Kristen, who we see in the beginning torching a house. Quickly, she is taken to a mental hospital, where she meets all the other “crazy” girls like her. At first they don’t accept her as part of their clique, but she quickly earns their respect by being fiercly independent and refusing to be broken by the staff of the hospital, who are depicted as being crazier than any of the girls they are suppose to be caring for.
There are many elements present that made Carpenter famous in the past: inventive camerawork, sharp cinematography, and great set design. However, the acting leaves something to be desired, with many characters feeling very one-dimensional until they become fodder for the plot. When Kristen starts to “see” what is happening to her peers, she begins to lose it. She sees a ghost killing all of them, and then quickly becomes a suspect in each incident as she is the only one to have witnessed the ghost.
Too many jump scares and a borderline silly plot keep this from being even one of Carpenter’s respectable works. While it has many great technical achievements, the paper thin story and predictable plot twists really drag the entire thing down. Carpenter is famous for the great atmospheres he creates, and with The Ward he doesn’t slouch in the atmosphere department. However, when that atmosphere is used to little or no effect in service of the story at hand, it ends up being wasted. It is no fault of Carpenter, he brings his A-game as far as direction goes, but by choosing such a weak script he counteracts any positives he manages to accomplish in the film.
While many will be disappointed with this film, as I was, I can’t say it’s a terrible film. The script is weak, and the acting may leave a lot to be desired, but at the same time he hits a lot of good notes along the way. It’s akin to a musician returning to the music scene after a long absence, only to make music that is half-hearted and simple, despite the astounding ability of the musician to be able to play it. So while The Ward might come off as an overall miss for Carpenter, it’s good to see him working again, and promising to see he hasn’t lost his touch for visuals and atmosphere. If someone can get him a decent script, and he can stay motivated enough to make it, we’ll have another classic Carpenter film on our hands. In the meantime, this is just a watered down taste of what may come from him in the future.
Overall, The Ward will appeal to die hard Carpenter fans, and non-discerning fans of ghost stories. For an overall better film along the same lines, check out Lucky McKee’s The Woods, a period piece with better performances, a better script, and Bruce Fucking Campbell. For everyone else, The Ward is a rental at best, especially for those curious to see what the Master of the 80’s has made since his long absence. The Ward is currently playing amongst VOD platforms, and is gearing up for a limited theatrical release this friday, July 8th. Maybe in a packed theater full of enthusiastic fans it would be more exciting or enjoyable, but for me, at home, The Ward failed to satisfy my thirst for a new, good, film from John Carpenter.