Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Amber Heard, Lyndsy Fonseca, Danielle Panabaker
Running Time: 88 minutes.
As Sickboy and Renton lay splayed on a grassy knoll shooting dogs up the arse on a glorious summer’s day in Trainspotting, Sickboy offers one of his varied philosophies on life, “Well, at one time, you’ve got it, and then you lose it, and it’s gone forever.” Proof utterly positive of this is John Carpenter. This man gave us Halloween, The Fog, Assault on Precinct 13, Escape from New York and, the second greatest horror movie ever made, The Thing. This man also managed, as his directorial career sadly continued, to spew out Vampires, Ghosts Of Mars, Village Of The Damned and Escape From L.A. Kurt Russell on a surfboard in the latter sparked this reviewers first ever walk-out from a picture house. That was 15 years ago. Now he brings us The Ward, his first feature film 11 years. I was ready to forgive. I was ready to forget. I was ready to love again. I was also ready to leave after 22 minutes.
It’s 1964 and a dishevelled looking Kristin (Amber Heard) is running around in a nightie and setting houses on fire. The men in the white coats soon come calling and she’s dragged yelping to an remote asylum, apparently a victim of the ‘bang ‘em up first, ask questions later’ 1960’s ethos on mental health issues. Not long after she arrives in The Ward For The Really, Really, Really, Ridiculously Good Looking, things start to go ‘huh?’ in the night. Although her fellow nutjobs and a very skeleton staff try to persuade her otherwise, she believes there is some sort of Industrial-Goth chick with greasy hair and questionable personal hygiene roaming the halls, intent on extreme murderousness.
If this sounds like a mash-up of Gothika, The Ring and Shutter Island to you, that’s probably because it is. Let’s go with ‘Shitter Island’ for now. Things get loud and seriously silly before you can say ‘sexy communal shower time, girls!’ with gaping holes in logic almost every other minute. Creating an atmosphere of mystery and intrigue is one thing, but such glaring logic lapses serve only to furrow the brow and roll the eyes. Those inane, irritating plot-holes and lapses of internal rationale can, likely, be explained away upon closer inspection of the ‘twist’ ending, but when it’s a twist that could just as likely be the fruits of some ‘Twist Generator’ iPhone App, why would we bother?
Surely realising the “script’s” woeful shortcomings, Carpenter lays on the atmosphere as thick as treacle. Wind, rain, shadows, power cuts, jump cuts and throat cuts all in the name of FEAR. The self-titled ‘Master Of Horror’ can do little else but reduce himself to increasingly exhausted screeches and Dolby scares, making even the most spiky haired, Oakley shades wearing, MTV-influenced hack directors seem innovative by comparison. The horrible irony being that the design and execution are more like that of Rob Zombie, the man who stamped his own vile vision on Carpenter’s seminal Halloween in 2007. Carpenter may have challenged himself to make an old fashioned bogey(wo)man story – or simply taken the first job offered to him – but what’s the point? It’s over ten years since Scream stabbed the slasher genre back to life and opened the floodgates for a near decade-long tsunami of mostly low-rent dirge. There’s even an effort by composer Mark Kilian to evoke residue creepiness from Goblin’s score to Dario Argento’s masterpiece Suspiria by aping it quite shamelessly.
None of this works, of course, and it’s left to Mad Men’s ever watchable Jared Harris, continuing down his career path as a portrayer of ‘British 1960’s man’, to be the only compelling thing on show. Be warned, however, that his ‘fell asleep face-down in a crate of pineapples’ visage is quite something to behold on the big screen. You have been warned.