While John Carpenter proves with this latest project that his directorial vision is still to be trusted, let's hope the next script he chooses is worthy of his talents.
Director: John Carpenter
Starring: Amber Heard, Jared Harris, Danielle Panabaker, Mamie Gummer
After nine years away from cinema screens, the Halloween director John Carpenter returns to salvage his reputation from younger imitators and lame remakes. That's the theory, at least. Set in 1966, The Ward stars Amber Heard as an amnesiac arsonist imprisoned in an all-female psychiatric ward. Led by Jared Harris as a creepy shrink, the doctors and nurses in this fortress-like hospital are less than sympathetic. But their sinister scowls are nothing compared to the ghostly creature who stalks the corridors, apparently abducting Heard's fellow patients one by one. Carpenter's feature-directing comeback was reportedly inspired by working on the American TV series Masters of Horror. He applies the same low-budget pulp approach to The Ward, which helps explain its cheap and clunky tone in places. Thus, sketchy stock characters, cheesy plot twists and jolting shocks might generously be seen as tongue-in-cheek nods to formulaic genre rules, rather than lazy errors. That said, Carpenter clearly retains a flair for nerve-snapping tension and breaks new ground by including enough graphic gore to satisfy fans of the Saw series. There are passing nods here to cult classics including Shock Corridor, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and The Shining, but The Ward is most similar in setting and theme to Scorsese's recent retro-schlockfest, Shutter Island. Carpenter's polished B-movie is hardly a glorious return to form, but it looks pleasingly glossy, moves along at a lively pace, and presses all the right slasher-shocker buttons. Next time, we can only hope the celebrated pulp-horror maestro chooses a script worthy of his talents.
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