The Ward proves imprisoning on many levels, namely that John Carpenter, arguably the greatest horror filmmaker of the past 30+ years, returns to feature filmmaking after a decade’s absence with something this limp, literal, and undistinguished. Something’s amiss from the opening sequence, as a nameless psych-ward patient has her neck broken by an unseen zombie/ghost-like figure, before transitioning into a creative, but unremarkable credits sequence. Without a hand in the writing and score, Carpenter’s auteur touches remain on the periphery – this may be his ugliest film visually, his most depressing thematically. Essentially, the film revolves around Oregonian psychiatric hospital newbie Kristen (Amber Heard), whose presence brings with her an unnamed ghost, wreaking havoc on an annoying troupe of female inmates, most of whom speak in little-girl voices and generally act deranged. If most of the characters appear too alike and/or too distinctly separate from one another, there’s a tidy plot twist coming to clarify this paradox.
Never once is The Ward compelling. Not really, anyway, except for maybe the recognition of Carpenter’s signature metonymy, focusing on the descending hand of his ghostly killer rather than the entire figure, (a continual allusion to Rodin’s famous piece, surely), especially when the girls get strapped to a gurney and have a long metal instrument plunged into their eye socket. Aside from these acute visual touches, The Ward offers very little formal mastery – Carpenter’s stock and trade. It’s also difficult to think of another recent film that’s this much of an aural assault, dispersing jump scares like they’re going out of style and dialing the “BRUMM!” noises to eleven. Enough already. After the tenth one, it’s tempting to just press mute. Moreover, the script (by two hack brothers named Michael and Shawn Rasmussen) desperately culls elements from much better films, churning out scenes lacking the slightest idiosyncrasy or subtlety. To say Carpenter remains on autopilot here would be an insult – it’s sub-autopilot, catatonic in its inanity, a disrespectful slap-in-the-face to the director’s fans. Carpenter has always projected a veneer of cynicism and disregard in interviews, letting his films reveal themselves, a master, minimalist filmmaker. He doesn’t appear to be having fun anymore and that loss makes The Ward an unendurable mess, numb, hackneyed and fragmented as to dispel all artistry, meaning, and, most certainly, feeling.