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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: 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.
  • Music By: