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One Freaks Over the Cuckoo's Nest

MOVIE REVIEW
The Ward (2011)

The-ward-amber-heard-laura-leigh
Arc Entertainment

A full decade since “Ghosts of Mars,” John Carpenter’s long-awaited return to directing has attracted no fanfare at all. In fact, “The Ward” will be unceremoniously showing on a single screen in New York, as well as Los Angeles, in addition to video-on-demand. It’s a shame, because it’s scary good. Not that it’s anywhere near Mr. Carpenter’s classics such as “Halloween” or “Escape From New York.” And it’s not going to renew his relevancy the way “Scream” did for Wes Craven. But that doesn’t mean you won’t shiver throughout your subway ride home.

The set-up is trite: a haunted psychiatric institution — à la “Shutter Island,” “Gothika” and “Session 9” — where unreliable protagonists often have to overcome heartless medical personnel in their fight for survival. In between seemingly endless dolly shots of lightning-flashing hospital corridors, Kristen (Amber Heard channeling her best Kristen Stewart impersonation) must juggle between evil nurses, sedative injections, shock therapy, loony patients and a ghostly figure no one likes to talk about.

It doesn’t take long down this well-trodden path before skepticism and doubt set in among moviegoers. But Mr. Carpenter proves just in time that he’s indeed a master of the genre, creating heavy suspense with very little gore. The screenplay by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen has its standard misdirection — leading viewers to suspect that there’s a correlation between the patients’ escape attempts and their untimely demises — that is logically incompatible with the climactic cop-out twist recalling “High Tension.” But Mr. Carpenter manages to overcome all of the setbacks to churn out something half decent — That in itself is pretty thrilling to watch.

THE WARD

Opens on July 8 in New York and Los Angeles.

Directed by John Carpenter; written by Michael Rasmussen and Shawn Rasmussen; director of photography, Yaron Orbach; edited by Patrick McMahon; music by Mark Kilian; production design by Paul Peters; costumes by Lisa Caryl; produced by Doug Mankoff, Peter Block, Mike Marcus and Andrew Spaulding; released by ARC Entertainment. Running time: 1 hour 39 minutes. This film is rated R.

WITH: Amber Heard (Kristen), Mamie Gummer (Emily), Danielle Panabaker (Sarah), Lyndsy Fonseca (Iris), Jared Harris (Dr. Stringer), Mika Boorem (Alice) and Laura-Leigh (Zoey).

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