September 14, 2010
TIFF 2010: On "John Carpenter's The Ward"
Before we resume our regularly scheduled programming, a few words on a film evidently especially anticipated by readers of this site/blog. Like most movie fiends around my age of my gender, I'm a lifelong, dyed-in-the-wool John Carpenter fan, and I didn't hesitate for a moment to clear a space in my TIFF sked for his first feature film since 2001's Ghosts of Mars. He's been off his game for years--decades, even--and this is the sort of festival fare that makes me feel like I'm opting for peanuts over the vegetable platter, but still: a no-brainer. Alas and alack, that's doubly true of The Ward. Usually when Carpenter fails, it's because he overthinks--not this time. Amber Heard plays a new patient at a psychiatric institute for criminally hot chicks (fellow inmates include Danielle Panabaker and Lyndsy Fonseca), though Carpenter's so asexual you can forget about Sapphic overtones or witty leering. (This movie must have the most un-titillating all-girl shower scene in cinematic history.) The picture courts the MAXIM demo, verisimilitude be damned, because that's how you cast something you expect to go straight to video, and Carpenter's similarly nuance-free direction all but confirms he had no higher aspirations for The Ward. Which is why I'm baffled that the film is officially called John Carpenter's The Ward: he made it abundantly clear in Gilles Boulenger's interview book that he leaves his name off the title if his heart wasn't in it. A return to form it definitely isn't, in other words--but, worse, aside from its cannibalizing of a few Cundeyian Steadicam moves and the ending to Prince of Darkness (and, again, that lack of sensuality), it doesn't feel like a Carpenter flick. There's no mood, no tension, no originality (and all that that implies in a year which saw the release of Shutter Island). It's deeply stupid, without the balm of his inimitable style, or any style. It relies on jump-scares. It broke my fucking heart. 0.5/****