Alright, I have good news and bad news. John Carpenter is still a director with a ton of merit, a sharp eye, and a solid voice for storytelling. The bad news is that he directed “The Ward.”
“The Ward” is a psychological horror movie about a young girl named Kristen (Amber Heard) whom is institutionalized after burning down a house. She has no memory of the event, and questions if it even happened. During her stay, a rotting female figure haunts the halls during the night. Even though she seems sane, the doctors and orderlies are vague to Kristen’s diagnosis. So, Kristen takes it upon herself to solve the mysteries of “The Ward.”
Accompanying Kristen is the over protective Emily (Mamie Gummer), the awkwardly vain Sarah (Danielle Panabaker), the childlike Zoey (Laura-Leigh), and the artistic and gentle Iris (Lyndsy Fonseca). They all become eerily quiet when Kristen mentions the ghost-girl and the name Alice keeps reoccurring in her investigations. One by one, the girls are killed off by the rotting ghost girl and the doctors refuse to hear Kristen’s pleas. Then a wacky super-twist happens!
The majority of this movie makes little sense, and because of that, it’s hard to care for what’s going on. It’s not because the script is nonsensical, it’s just that the story is restricted to the whims of the twist. For any twist to work when revealed, the physics of that twist has to be maintained throughout the movie. You never see Norman Bates in the same room as his mother, Edward Norton’s character is never awake when Tyler Durden is active, and Bruce Willis never has a two way conversation with anyone other than creepy Haley Joel Osment. Even though “Psycho”, “Fight Club”, and “The Sixth Sense” have substantial twists towards the end, the integrity of those films are still intact. “The Ward” limps along for it’s handicapped by the boundaries of the twist.
As for the production value, “The Ward” is probably the best looking John Carpenter movie. It has an eerie atmosphere and the film flows quite nicely. If they re-remade “The Haunting” I would vote for John Carpenter to direct. He can make empty rooms and mundane objects seem horrifying. His sense for rhythm through visuals and editing is stellar.
Some directors can take a ho-hum script and make it something worthwhile. The script for “Drive” couldn’t have been anything special, but Nicolas Winding Refn made something unique. When John Carpenter gets ahold of something genuine, he can make an instant classic. “The Thing,” “Big Trouble in Little China,” “Halloween,” “Escape from New York,” “They Live,” and even “In the Mouth of Madness” are all great in their own right.
Here’s a quote from John Carpenter quoting Stephan King: “ ‘The cliche’ in hollywood is that you keep every monster in the dark, you never see the face of the devil, you never show it. However, if you can come up with something so astonishing looking on screen you’ll hit a home run out of the ballpark.’ I’ll never forger it. So being stupid, I said, lets try that.” That was in an interview referring to the 1982 film “The Thing.” He succeeded. The effects of “The Thing” still hold up today. It’s probably the closest real life representation of a head tearing itself off, growing legs, and walking across the floor.
The monster/ghost in “The Ward” is nothing we haven’t seen before. There’s no image of it that will keep you up at night. It’s not bad by any means, but its entirely forgettable. It may have been terrifying in the 80’s, but a zombie in the background of “The Walking Dead” looks just as good.
SPOILER SUPER TWIST REVEAL
Kristen is Alice! She’s also Emily, Sarah, Zoey, and Iris. They’re all in her head. Alice was abused as a child and locked in a basement for an extended period of time. To cope with the abuse she created multiple personalities. This is not an actual ghost story. She escaped the institution one day and burned down the place she was held captive. In her head, Alice was killed by the rest of the mental characters, and she came back from the cerebral dead to kill everyone else off. After a massive confrontation between Alice and Kristen, Alice realizes her condition. The road to recovery can now begin in this “Shutter Island,” “Sucker Punch,” “Identity,” “Sybil,” “Psycho,” amalgamation.