There is only so much you can say about a used-to-be-great director before you finally give up. John Carpenter was one of those guys for me. I’d say to my friends, “Who cares if he made The Village of the Damned or Ghosts of Mars… this dude made The Thing (1982), Halloween, and Big Trouble in Little China!” But that didn’t matter after a while. There is only so much you could say about a director who hasn’t made a decent film in quite some time (1995‘s In the Mouth of Madness might be his last worthy effort).
Prior to 2001’s Ghosts of Mars, a somewhat respectable guilty pleasure but otherwise awful film, he directed 1998’s Vampires. There are many who speak highly about James Woods’ performance but you can’t say anything else good about that film except for the fact that we get to watch a Baldwin Brother get killed.
1996 brought us Escape from L.A. Most people hated that film when it came out, aside from Roger Ebert, but it’s definitely a film that may have been ahead of its time. You see, Carpenter got on the remake bandwagon before Hollywood hit it full force. Now when I watch L.A., I am able to see that film for what it really is – a remake satire done by the creator so Hollywood couldn’t fuck it up. And though they tried to remake Escape from N.Y. a couple of years ago with Brett Ratner (Rush Hour) and that dude from 300, it eventually got buried (thankfully).
Where was I going with this?
Oh yes, a review for a new film recently hitting the DVD/Blu-ray circuit. Director John Carpenter has returned with his first new film in a decade – The Ward. Is it any good? Did the director return to form and make an awesome film again? Sadly, the answer to these questions is no.
Carpenter Needs to Make “Escape From Earth” Next (9/2011)
The Ward stars Amber Heard (Zombieland, Drive Angry) as a mental patient with no real memory of who she is, how she got there, or why she was found burning down an old farmhouse. She quickly finds brief refuge with some of the institutions other female patients (don’t worry, this isn’t heading into Sucker-Punch territory) until she starts seeings visions of a dastardly ghost hellbent on murdering the other girls. Being in a mental institution during this, of course, means no one believes what she is seeing.
It’s hard to talk about the plot any more without ruining the ridiculous twist ending. Fans of Identity or Shutter Island won’t have a problem figuring out this caper. The rest of you probably won’t care. At its core, The Ward contains an element or two of a good movie. A mental institution being haunted by an ex-patient who was murdered there? That sounds good, in theory, but is ruined by the twist gimmick. When will filmmakers learn that audiences haven’t cared much for a twist since 1999 (when Fight Club and Sixth Sense were all the rage).
For a John Carpenter movie, the first in ten years, it’s not awful. From a filmmaking standpoint, The Ward looks surprisingly good (photographed by Yaron Orbach — Our Idiot Brother). The film also contains a score that works really well, as far as atmosphere is concerned. Composed by Mark Kilian (Tsotsi), one can’t help but wonder why Carpenter sat this one out? You sort of miss his synthesizer in parts but the music still works without it.
The Ward isn’t too terrible of a movie. I have seen worse by directors with big gaps away from the screen. It’s just all too familiar from a man who spent the early part of his career surprising us at every turn, while somehow leaving a lot to our own imaginations.