How the mighty have fallen. Romero went from the heights of NIGHT and DAWN to the depths of DIARY and SURVIVAL. Tobe Hooper, at one time one of the most infamous directors in the world, was relegated to making occasional (bad) TV pilots. Now John Carpenter has joined their inglorious ranks...
To be fair, Carpenter’s output has been in decline for decades. Like his illustrious peers, he was at his bloody best in the late 70’s and early 80’s, creating such stone-cold classics as HALLOWEEN, THE FOG and THE THING. He could do no wrong back then, producing one genre classic after another. But all things must pass, and Carpenter’s last two films, VAMPIRES and GHOSTS OF MARS, were bad enough to alienate even his most devoted fans. Better to retire with at least some of his reputation intact.
It was with a mixture of trepidation and excitement, therefore, that I sat down to watch his first cinematic outing in a decade, THE WARD. I can’t say I was surprised, but I was disappointed. Feisty amnesiac runaway Kristen, played by Amber Heard, is arrested for arson and incarcerated in a psychiatric ward. She soon learns that her fellow inmates (who, like her, are all young and improbably pretty, making it seem more like a college sorority than a facility for the mentally disturbed) are being stalked and killed by zombie ghost girl Alice. Kristen vows to fight back, and lead the survivors to safety.
Almost everything that follows has been done before, and done better. The head nurse is a watered-down version of Nurse Ratched, the orderly a lecherous cliché, and the killer a standard CGI ghoul. A PG-rated shower scene makes a tepid attempt at eroticism (which, if wet shoulder blades are your thing, will be right up your street), and there’s even an impromptu dance number, more at home in Glee than a ghost story.
The final twist, though far from original, is at least unexpected, and goes a long way to mitigating some of the more implausible and inexplicable elements. But even that barely elevates what is a crashingly pedestrian affair. There’s none of the taut storytelling or dripping atmosphere of Carpenter’s best work. In fact there’s nothing to differentiate it from any bog standard straight-to-DVD horror.