John Carpenter's The Ward
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John Carpenter’s The Ward

Still courtesy of TIFF.

John Carpenter’s The Ward

by John Carpenter (USA, Midnight Madness)

“This is an old school horror movie made by an old school director,” John Carpenter himself said about his first movie in nine years. Unfortunately, audiences have already graduated.
The Ward tells the story of Kristen (Amber Heard), a young woman who is committed to an insane asylum with no idea why. Soon she realizes there are dark forces at work at the hospital, and as her four fellow patients begin to disappear, she begins to uncover the secret behind a ghostly presence that terrorizes them.
Sound familiar? It does to us, too. Besides the plot, The Ward rehashes more tired horror movie conventions—a quick death scene opener, a shower scene, and a “twist” ending that spurs more chuckles than chills—yet it takes itself too seriously to be campy. The lack of context behind the characters, though crucial to the plot, makes them completely unrelatable (besides the performance of Mamie Gummer as the endearingly unhinged Emily), and with one-liners like “Sleep tight, sugar,” the only amusing part of the script is the aptly named Nurse Lunt. Sure, the music is creepy and the jump cuts will make you jolt, but there are some serious missed opportunities for screams, and without all the parts working together it leaves you with too good of a night’s sleep.
In the time that Carpenter didn’t make his films, other people did, creating more sinister villains, more gruesome deaths, and more complex plots. So now, what originally made John Carpenter the King of Horror—the elements of films like Halloween, The Thing, and Prince of Darkness—instead constitute a movie that’s clichéd and a little tame for modern thrill-seekers. And it seems Carpenter knew this, as he couldn’t even be bothered to get out of jury duty to attend the world premiere of his re-entry into filmmaking. If the director won’t even watch the movie, why should we?
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