It’s safe to say that JOHN CARPENTER is my favorite director of all time. I may have been more fascinated by CRONENBERG for a wee while, but that was only during my artsy phase. CARPENTER has made the majority of my favorite films and I have returned to and watched his movies over again a zillion times. So really, I came to this conclusion using simple math. I admit I was a bit cautious approaching his latest, THE WARD but considering I count myself among the few who appreciated GHOSTS OF MARS, I figured my chances of being outraged enough to throw a trash can through a pizza shop window were slim. I wasn’t expecting a tour de force, just a competent work with a few adornments that high-fived his previous films. So what if he lost some zing and vitality? I wasn’t feeling too hot myself. In other words, my expectations were not too high or too low. I’ve already gotten so much from this filmmaker that demanding much more felt like being an ungracious turd.
No need for plot details, it’s basically GIRL INTERRUPTED…BY A GHOST! Most of the film runs smooth as silk and desperation free. It looks crispy clean in general and J.C.’s lovely signature is present and clearly legible. The atmosphere is not especially strong for ghostly subject matter but select moments hit the right uncanny nerve. The man has an eye and that eye still impresses; there’s a bounty of wonderful shots all filled with his exquisite affection for lines and angles. I will assume that the film would have benefited some from a score by CARPENTER himself but a CARPENTER-approved score will have to suffice. (Did I hear a nod toward SUSPIRIA?)
I also really dig the cast, AMBER HEARD is all types of engaging, both beautiful and convincingly staunch. MAMIE GUMMER, as a quirky inmate, reminds me of a young MERYL STREEP and that I’m blaming on her mom, MERYL STREEP. JARED HARRIS is outstanding as a Loomis-y shrink leaning on nuts himself. I’d love to see him become a recurring CARPENTER player as PLEASENCE and ATKINS have done before him. I think this is a fantastic movie up to a point…
The problem is the script and more precisely, the end of the script. The film follows familiar paths and that is fine and dandy but then all the sudden it tramps things up big time with a highly irritating, borderline excruciating twist. I had such a good time with the HALLOWEEN II-ish setting, the FOG-zombie ghost, THE THING-esque group dynamics and CARPENTER’s overall swoopy snug as a straightjacket style that I thought I could forgive the insulting “reveal” but then something worse happened, something that I’m still trying to reconcile.
The film ends with (and you can’t spoil the already rotten) a goddamn medicine cabinet scare! Have you ever gone on a perfect date and then at the end of the evening the so and so bends to kiss you and their breath smells like roadkill? It’s not a good way to leave things. I can’t be too hard on a movie that is mostly good. I suppose if it was released twenty years ago, it would have curled my toes and buttered my English muffin. The good news is that CARPENTER still has the serious chops and honestly I’ll take this movie before many a recent offering from some of his peers. Now, somebody please get this poor guy a script with an ending that doesn’t make me sneeze. I’m allergic to mold!