Ok, right off the bat…I LOVE a good chunk of John Carpenters filmography. I mean really, Halloween (1978), Escape From New York (1981), The Thing (1982), Big Trouble in Little China (1986), Prince of Darkness (1987), They Live (1988) and In the Mouth of Madness (1994) are ALL kick ass genre movies. Scattered in amongst those titles are some damn entertaining flicks as well. Admittedly, most of what came after 1994 was noticeably and increasingly sloppy and/or overly cheezy. One had to wonder: Had Carpenter lost it? Entirely possible. The man is getting a little ‘long in the tooth’, considering that his career goes back to his first short film Revenge of the Colossal Beasts in 1962, so maybe his twilight years have robbed him of his zeal for quality film-making. In the last little while, he seems to be perfectly content licensing (selling?) out for remakes of some of his classics, some which have actually turned out pretty entertaining (Assault on Precinct 13 anyone?). But aside from 2 (that I know of) shorts for the Masters of Horror anthology (one very decent, one shit), John Carpenters name has been noticeably absent from the local marquee, of late. Until The Ward popped onto the scene. It seems to me that it quietly snuck into the theatres with none of the expected fanfare that a ‘classic’ director such as JC should receive. But then again, with the recent track record….(shrugs). I initially brushed this flick off, basically writing JC off as being infected with a case of The Lucas’, you know…that terminal disease that sometimes affects once highly talented film-makers by giving them more success and cash than their mortal minds can handle and as a tragic result, their newer efforts seem to be doing everything they can to shit on the legacy of the great material that came before. But now that I’ve seen this, his latest, my instinct to simply dismiss JC as a ‘has been’ has diminished by a healthy chunk. The 1966-set story follows Kristen, a confused and desperate young woman, (played by Blake Livelys lesbian doppelganger, Amber Heard) who is initially found in a catatonic state, on her knees before the farm house that she opted to flambe’ right before the ‘coppers’ arrived. From there, she is transferred to a nearby sanitarium and confined to The Ward (get it?). In among daily doses of drugs, she interacts with the other girls that she is forced to share the space with. There is The Attractive Glasses-Wearing Book Worm, The Homely Bat Shit Crazy Chick, The Flirty ‘Girl Next Door’ (SUPER hot) Sex Kitten, and The Stuffed Bunny Clutching Little Girl Catatonic. As Kristen starts to integrate herself into this messed up little dynamic (while constantly trying to escape), it becomes apparent that SOMETHING ELSE is present and accounted for in The Ward….and it’s pissed. As a ‘haunting ‘ story, Carpenter does a decent job with building tension (just never quite enough!) and well-paced ‘jump’ scares (as cheap as they admittedly are). Decent enough to keep me interested and, at times, ‘chilled’. The cinematography is slick and competent, as is the editing. Surprisingly the music verged on ‘underwhelming’, especially since this director was well known for crafting and writing/playing most of his own musical scores (hello, Halloween!). The music here is….serviceable, for the genre. Some of the acting is a little sloppy but not enough to be a detriment to the narrative. And there’s The Twist. I’m still not entirely sure where on the fence I sit on ‘it’. Part of me thought, ‘That’s a pretty slick direction to take THIS story’ while another part asked ‘Shutter Island?’. Yea, I think you know what I mean. Um…spoiler? Sorry. Anyway, The Ward shows (me) that JC can still craft an entertaining genre entry in among his rampant chain smoking (Bad, John Carpenter!) and Remake Producing/Selling Out. Next time, I’d like to see him show a little more ‘balls and teeth’ in his next cinematic outing. I know he still has it!!! This flick may convince you too.
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