Fans excited to see John Carpenter back in bigscreen will find limited cause for joy in "The Ward."

Fans excited to see John Carpenter back in bigscreen action after nine years’ absence will find limited cause for joy in “The Ward,” a horror opus that briskly — maybe too briskly — charts ghostly doings at a nuthouse. Sporting the genre veteran’s familiar stylistic sheen, but undone by its script, pic as yet lacks a U.S. distributor, and won’t likely burn up the B.O. anywhere, though home-format biz should be snappy.

After setting fire to an empty farmhouse, Kristen (Amber Heard) joins four other troubled young women in a locked in a psych ward. She has no idea how she got here, though flashbacks to a nasty basement-captive situation suggest she’s suppressing. Also under the “care” of Dr. Stringer (Jared Harris) are man-hungry princess Sarah (Danielle Panabaker), nerdy Iris (Lyndsy Fonseca), childlike Zoey (Laura-Leigh) and aggressive Emily (Mamie Gummer). Their number keeps dwindling, no one believing Kristen’s claims that a grudge-bearing dead patient — is stalking them. As usual Carpenter uses the widescreen frame with aplomb, but pic suffers from too little character detailing (even if a late twist explains that), rote scares, and emphasis on a hectic pace over atmosphere.

John Carpenter's The Ward

Production

A Filmnation Entertainment in association with Premiere Picture presentation of an Echo Lake Entertainment production in association with a Bigger Boat. (International sales: IM Global, Los Angeles.) Produced by Mike Marcus, Andrew Spaulding, Doug Mankoff, Peter Block. Executive producers, David Rogers, Adam Betteridge, Rich Cowan. Co-producer, Jessica Stamen. Directed by John Carpenter. Screenplay, Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen.

Crew

Camera (color, widescreen), Yaron Orbach; editor, Patrick McMahon; music, Mark Kilian; production designer, Paul Peters; art director, Vincent DeFelice; set decorator, Rachel M. Thompson; costume designer, Lisa Caryl. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival, Sept. 14, 2010. Running time: 88 MIN.

With

Amber Heard, Mamie Gummer, Danielle Panabaker, Laura-Leigh, Lyndsy Fonseca, Mika Boore, Jared Harris, Sali Sayler, Suzanna Burney, Dan Anderson, Sean Cook, Jillian Kramer.

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