John Carpenter’s The Ward
Directed by John Carpenter
Thirty years later, it looks like John Carpenter really wishes he’d helmed Halloween II; because time travel doesn’t exist but Rob Zombie does, he has made John Carpenter’s The Ward instead. Like Rick Rosenthal’s underappreciated 1981 sequel to his slasher milestone, Carpenter’s first feature in a decade is set in a hospital, emphasis on the long corridors, and it feels like a sequel, though to a movie that wasn’t made: a young girl is kidnapped, hung from a ceiling, and sexually abused—she’s tortured and porned—but that suffering unfolds in scattered flashbacks. John Carpenter’s The Ward focuses on what happens next, the rocky recovery process.
We watch an attractive young woman, wearing nothing but a soiled white slip, race through the woods and set fire to an old farmhouse. Cue the closing credits? No, the opening ones! The girl, Kristen (Amber Heard), is promptly arrested and taken to the crazy-ladies floor of a hospital, where the inmates play out a mean-girls dynamic—like high schoolers under lockdown—against a backdrop of supernatural happenings and severe medical treatments (overseen by Mad Men‘s Jared Harris). One by one, the women disappear, victims of a vengeful ghost stalking the ward.
Or, not? A late reversal pulls John Carpenter’s The Ward away from the supernatural and toward the psychological. Sporting a prominent Alice in Wonderland allusion—a character named Alice who has a cherished stuffed rabbit—this sorta-slasher is a trip down the rabbit hole of the subconscious, exploring trauma and the human brain’s pernicious coping mechanisms. Carpenter, working from a script by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, saves his big reveal for the final reel because he has nothing else to offer; ignoring a potential subtext about the schizophrenic condition of women in 1960s America as they struggled to reconcile diverse roles, John Carpenter’s The Ward is defiantly mediocre, tumbling toward its twist without tension, character, or meaty themes. It may boast superficial resemblance to Carpenter’s heyday work and the gialli that inspired it. But it’s a long way from Halloween—roughly three decades, at least.
Opens July 8