When John Carpenter was making his classics---Halloween (1978), the subversive Escape from New York (1981), an improved remake of The Thing (1982)---you might have thought that Hollywood was headed for a more rascally place than it went. The disdain for authority was thrilling; like his hero, Howard Hawks, Carpenter loved strong women and the camaraderie of emergency. His semiretirement from work hurt movie fans more than they realized.
Who knew that his return would sting even more: The Ward, Carpenter's first feature since 2001's Ghosts of Mars, has the logy, diffident attitude of a lost artist. (Are my tears soaking the page yet?) Forget, for a second, that the movie's loony-bin script bears an unflattering resemblance to Shutter Island---or that institutionalized Amber Heard, for all her blond lissomeness, is no Jamie Lee Curtis in the chops department. Where is this director's impeccable eye for widescreen compositions, lending every hallway creep a muscular sense of dread? (Carpenter doesn't seem to have looked through the camera once.) And how could he not have given us one of his signature synth scores, so central to his appeal? That's just plain lazy, given the decade-long wait.
Lacking a single serious scare or sly idea, the movie dies in ways that merely mediocre horror films can't even dream of. What's Carpenter doing with Scooby-Doo-grade spectral inmates and Mad Men's dithering Jared Harris as a somber therapist? Let the intervention start now: If the spirit to create doesn't move you, John, please wait. Call up Stephen King or Kurt Russell. Rage against the world and put pen to paper. We need you.
Watch the trailer