Category Archives: Themed Reviews

Worst of 2016: God’s Not Dead 2

God’s Not Dead 2

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Up next in my series on the worst films of 2016 is the ultra-evangelical follow up to the 2014 hit God’s Not Dead: God’s Not Dead 2.

The plot of God’s Not Dead is loosely summarized on IMDb as follows:

When a high school teacher is asked a question in class about Jesus, her response lands her in deep trouble.

The lion’s share of the crew for God’s Not Dead 2 are holdovers from the first God’s Not Dead film, including director Harold Cronk, co-writers Chuck Conzelman and Cary Solomon, music composer Will Musser, cinematographer Brian Shanley, and editor Vance Null.

While there are few new faces at work behind the cameras, the cast features quite a number of new additions to the franchise. Gone are previous stars Kevin Sorbo, Shane Harper, and Dean Cain, but present are newcomers like Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters, Leviathan, Congo), Ray Wise (RoboCop, Twin Peaks), and Melissa Joan Hart (Clarissa Explains It All). While a few bit players provide connective tissue between the films, God’s Not Dead 2 is not so much a sequel as it is a spin-off, telling an entirely new story in the same (very) fictional universe.

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The lion’s share of God’s Not Dead 2 was filmed in Little Rock, Arkansas. This was a change in setting from the previous film, which was shot in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, primarily on the campus of Louisiana State University.

God’s Not Dead 2 was the final film of Fred Dalton Thompson, who died in November of 2015. While he was best known for his work in the Law & Order television franchise, he also had a handful of film roles in features like Baby’s Day Out, In The Line Of Fire, Days of Thunder, The Hunt For Red October, and the Scorsese remake of Cape Fear.

The production budget for the movie was estimated at $5 million. As with the first film, it wound up making a profit at the box office, taking in somewhere between $21 million and $24 million worldwide in its lifetime theatrical run. However, this paled in comparison to the profits for the original God’s Not Dead, which took in $62 million on a $2 million budget.

Critically, however, God’s Not Dead 2 didn’t do nearly so well. Currently, it holds Rotten Tomatoes ratings of 9% from critics and 63% from audiences, along with an IMDb user rating of 4.1/10.

Of all of the critical reviews that I read of the movie, I think that the Rotten Tomatoes critics consensus line best summarizes the essence of God’s Not Dead 2:

Every bit the proselytizing lecture promised by its title, God’s Not Dead 2 preaches ham-fistedly to its paranoid conservative choir.

Honestly, I can’t even begin to talk about all of the problems with the plot to this film. There are too many misconceptions, half-truths, straw men, and flat out lies to list out without it dominating the entire review. Frankly, that is why I didn’t review the original God’s Not Dead: I want to talk about a movie, not a paranoid treatise built on a foundation of sand. So, I am going to focus on other aspects of the movie, and leave the debunking to other folks. I can recommend reading reactions and reviews over at ThinkProgress, from the Freedom From Religion Foundation’s legal intern, and at Godless in Dixie.

As with the first film, one of the biggest weaknesses of God’s Not Dead 2 is the dialogue. Characters don’t speak organically, often sounding rigid and artificial, which further emphasizes the bloated, exaggerated caricatures that inhabit the cartoonish, simplistic story. At best, characters sound like they are delivering sermons. At worst, they just seem wooden and stilted.

The story itself, concept aside, is weighed down by the ensemble concept that provides its framework. Unlike the first film, the various plot threads and characters never really tie together in the end, and don’t much impact each other, which makes a lot of the movie feel pointless. In particular, a number of the loose connections to the first film could have been jettisoned to help the pacing of the story, like the Chinese student and the buddy priests. As it stands, the movie feels longer than it actually is because of the perceived lack of progression: the constant cutting between characters and plot threads makes following along feel like plodding through molasses.

One thing that I noticed quite a bit in the screenplay was a consistent ire directed at Stanford University. While Stanford is certainly a prestigious school with a liberal pedigree, I’m not sure why it wound up being the specific target of the film’s disdain for liberal higher education. Why not Harvard or Princeton? I would have assumed that the Yankee, Ivy league elite would be the go-to targets of extreme conservatives.

In regards to performances in God’s Not Dead 2, there is a pretty wide range to be found. While most of the cast sleepwalk through their dialogue, like the typically charming Ernie Hudson,  Ray Wise in particular embraces his role as a God-hating, moustache-twirling attorney. The movie lights up just the tiniest bit whenever he is on screen, and he provides some much needed energy for the courtroom sequences.

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All in all, God’s Not Dead 2 feels more like a fan film than a sequel, which is really odd given how much of the creative team returned from the first film. The whole affair feels chained to the previous movie, going so far as to force the title into the dialogue unnecessarily. That said, I actually think some of the technical craft is improved, though my memory is a little fuzzy in regards to the previous film.

As far as a recommendation goes, there is unfortunately not enough entertainment value here to enjoy the experience. It is just too dull and plodding to make sitting through it fun at all, despite Ray Wise’s performance and a handful of notable moments of complete disjointedness from reality.

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Larry Cohen Collection: “Perfect Strangers”

Perfect Strangers

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Today, I am continuing my spotlight on the career of notable b-movie writer/director Larry Cohen, who I interviewed earlier this year. Next up is 1984’s Perfect Strangers.

The plot of Perfect Strangers is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A hit-man tries to seduce the mother of a child who witnessed his most recent kill.

Perfect Strangers was both written and directed by Larry Cohen, and was released in the same year as another of his films, Special Effects. Perfect Strangers was Cohen’s follow-up directorial feature after the 1982 cult classic monster movie Q: The Winged Serpent.

The cast of Perfect Strangers includes Brad Rijn (Special Effects, A Return To Salem’s Lot), Anne Carlisle (Liquid Sky, Desperately Seeking Susan), Stephen Lack (Scanners, Dead Ringers), and Ann Magnuson (Small Soldiers, Glitter, Panic Room).

The cinematographer for the film was Paul Glickman, a frequent Larry Cohen collaborator who also shot The Stuff, Special Effects, God Told Me To, and See China And Die.

Perfect Strangers was edited by Armond Lebowitz, who also cut Larry Cohen’s films The Ambulance, Full Moon High, A Return To Salem’s Lot, Special Effects, The Stuff, and Q: The Winged Serpent.

Currently, Perfect Strangers has a 5.3/10 user rating on IMDb, from just over 230 submitted user reviews.

When I first heard about Perfect Strangers, I thought that the concept sounded pretty promising. The idea of a hitman needing to take out a child witness, and doing so by initiating a relationship with the mothers, creates an interesting atmosphere for tension. Unfortunately, this movie never really goes anywhere with that idea, and never feels much like a thriller or a romance.

The biggest issue with the movie is, surprisingly, the writing. Cohen has written some interesting and thoughtful screenplays, but this definitely isn’t one of them. I’m not sure if this was just rushed, but the characters don’t have any depth to them, and their dialogue and interactions all feel and look incredibly forced and unbelievable. Worse yet, there are a number of subplots that range from being uninteresting to being mind-warpingly ridiculous, like the presented local feminist action group members in that story who all behave like one-dimensional, man-hating caricatures written to life from the darker corners of the internet.

It doesn’t help that Cohen just doesn’t seem to have anything to say with this movie. His stronger stories have typically had roots in satirizing elements of culture, or understanding popular anxieties. Perfect Strangers comes off like the entire film was an excuse to rail against modern feminists and new-age mothering techniques, which he had mysterious personal vendettas against. The result is a straw man dressed up like a romantic thriller, and it shows.

perfectstrangers2Another huge problem with Perfect Strangers is the cinematography. The entire movie was filmed in pretty extreme soft focus, like it entirely takes place in a sitcom flashback or a shitty sex scene. I actually thought that something was wrong with the transfer, but apparently the movie was intended to be filmed in blur-o-vision. It is not only distracting, but it makes the entire movie look less rich and detailed, and almost supernatural. For a movie that should be grounded in a grim and gritty reality, the technique just doesn’t fit at all.

Last but not least, and I can’t emphasize this enough, Perfect Strangers has some of the most obnoxious, shitty child acting I have ever seen, which is particularly impressive because the child character is essentially a mute. I can’t totally blame this on the child, though: I’m pretty sure this was an inevitable outcome for casting a two year old. For the life of me, I don’t understand why Cohen didn’t write the kid as just a little bit older, so that they might have been able to find a child actor capable of pulling it off. The child could just be a mute or something, and the story could have worked almost exactly the same.

I’m pretty sure that Perfect Strangers is the worst Larry Cohen feature I have seen so far, but I still have a few left to get through before I’ve gotten through his primary filmography. I certainly can’t recommend it to anyone: this was a career misstep on Cohen’s part for sure if you ask me.

 

Larry Cohen Collection: “Bone”

Bone

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Today’s entry into the Larry Cohen Collection is Bone, his controversial directorial debut.

Bone is a tense and darkly humorous home invasion thriller that presents the story of a robbery that goes rapidly awry, and circuitously winds up unraveling the lives of all of the parties involved.

Bone was written, directed, and produced by Larry Cohen as his first feature film, after a notable career as a television writer. It laid the foundations for a long tenure in front of the camera that bounced between genres, and garnered Cohen a significant cult following.

The movie was co-edited and shot by George Folsey, Jr. (Hostel, Black Caesar, The Blues Brothers), with Michael Corey (God Told Me To) acting as his co-editor.

Aside from Larry Cohen, the producers for Bone included his then-wife Janelle Webb (A Return To Salem’s Lot, The Private Files of J. Edgar Hoover) and Peter Sabiston (It’s Alive, Hell Up In Harlem, Black Caesar).

The score to Bone was composed by Gil Melle, who also provided the music for movies like The Andromeda Strain and Killdozer.

A number of the effects in the movie were provided by eventual Academy Award winner and master of the field Rick Baker, who worked on a number of Cohen’s films early in his career.

The relatively small cast of Bone includes a young Yaphet Kotto (Alien, Live And Let Die, The Running Man), Andrew Duggan (A Return To Salem’s Lot), Jeannie Berlin (Inherent Vice, The Heartbreak Kid), and Joyce Van Patten (Grown Ups, Marley & Me, The Bad News Bears).

Bone proved to be a difficult movie to market, thanks to a combination of controversial themes and pitch-black humor. As a result, it received a handful of alternate titles, though the most ofen seen one is Housewife.

Bone was shot almost entirely in Larry Cohen’s own house and property, and even features his dog.

While Bone certainly has a positive cult reputation, its reviews on the whole are mixed. It currently holds a user rating of 6.8 on IMDb, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 67% from critics and 75% from audiences.

Personally, I see Bone as a bold work of a young director with an interesting vision. It is certainly unpolished and the product of a developing talent, but there are some flashes of really fantastic film-making here, particularly whenever a scene calls for a building of tension. Not only do the shots help build a simultaneous sense of uncomfortable distance and dangerously close proximity between the characters, but Cohen was able to get some really outstandingly emotional and creepy performances out of all four of the primary characters.

Oddly, the writing is really the weakest aspect of the movie. At first, the film has a clear clock on it to build the tension, but then it is dismissed outright. Honestly, I was a bit confused as to how much time was passing between scenes, and eventually the screenplay just drops the point altogether. Once that happens, the pacing of the movie gets kind of strange, and the last act makes for an odd sort of chase and rapid resolution. Looking back on it, I think this was a screenplay that Cohen wasn’t quite sure how to end, and it shows.

As far as a recommendation goes, Bone was definitely made for another time, which plays out as a positive and a negative. The movie provides a visual snapshot of Los Angeles at the time that is pretty cool to look at, but the political and social context behind this movie isn’t nearly as potent now. The humor is also sporadic and uneven, and it isn’t always clear what the message of the movie is. Regardless, as a exercise in building tension, there are some big positives to Bone. On top of that, one scene in particular features some of the earliest makeup work by Rick Baker, which adds a cool trivia bonus to the flick. Cohen fans at the least should check this one out, if you happen to be able to find a copy.

Interview with Larry Cohen

Welcome to a special feature here at the Misan[trope]y Movie Blog!
Recently, I had a chat with one of the best known cult movie writer/directors: Larry Cohen.

Cohen has had a career that has included hit television shows, blaxsploitation classics, and blockbuster screenplays, but he carved his unique place in film history by writing and directing memorable b-movies like The Stuff, It’s Alive, and Q: The Winged Serpent.

For more on his career, check out the Larry Cohen Collection here at Misantropey, where I have been working through his entire filmography.

Now, enjoy this interview with the one and only Larry Cohen.

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Twixt

Twixt

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Today’s entry into the continuing spotlight on bad movies by good directors is Francis Ford Coppola’s Twixt.

Twixt was written, produced, and directed by New Hollywood legend Francis Ford Coppola, whose works include Apocalypse Now, The Conversation, The Godfather, The Godfather Part 2, The Godfather Part 3, Dracula, The Outsiders, and The Cotton Club. However, he is also well known for having one of the steepest career declines in cinema history, in which he descended from being one of the greatest working directors in the business to being an at-best middling player.

The cinematographer for Twixt was Mihai Malaimare Jr., who has most notably shot The Master, Tetro, Youth Without Youth, and A Walk Among The Tombstones.

The editor for the film was Glen Scantlebury, who also cut Armageddon, Con Air, Stolen, and Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 take on Dracula.

The makeup and special effects work on Twixt was provided by a team that included Aurora Bergere (Joy, Gone Girl, The Master, Argo), Doug E. Williams (Moneyball, Howard The Duck), and Dick Wood (The Running Man, Freejack, Starman, Jaws 3-D).

The visual effects unit for Twixt included Michal Cavoj (Salt, Blackhat), Catherine Craig (Van Helsing, Willow), Ales Dlabac (Perfume, Season of the Witch), David Ebner (The Happening, Dracula 2000, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, The Core), Benjamin Hawkins (Spawn, After Earth), and Lukas Herrmann (Snowpiercer, Perfume), among many others.

The cast of Twixt includes Val Kilmer (The Island of Dr. Moreau, Heat, Red Planet, Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, Batman Forever, Top Gun, Alexander), Bruce Dern (Nebraska, The Hateful Eight, The Burbs, Bloody Mama), Elle Fanning (Babel, Super 8), Ben Chaplin (The Thin Red Line), Joanne Whalley (Willow, The Man Who Knew Too Little), David Paymer (Get Shorty, Drag Me To Hell), Ryan Simpkins (Space Warriors, A Single Man), and Tom Waits (The Cotton Club, Mystery Men, Seven Psychopaths).

twixt3The plot of Twixt is summarized on IMDb as follows:

A writer with a declining career arrives in a small town as part of his book tour and gets caught up in a murder mystery involving a young girl. That night in a dream, he is approached by a mysterious young ghost named V. He’s unsure of her connection to the murder in the town, but is grateful for the story being handed to him. Ultimately he is led to the truth of the story, surprised to find that the ending has more to do with his own life than he could ever have anticipated.

Twixt currently holds Rotten Tomatoes aggregate scores of 29% from critics and 18% from audiences, alongside a 4.8 user rating on IMDb. The movie only got a limited theatrical release, which means that it came up far shy of its $7 million budget.

The cinematography and visuals in Twixt for the most part look pretty good, if not a bit over the top, but there’s certainly no indications of this being Coppola’s handiwork. It looks like it could have been a debut picture for any semi-anonymous indie director nowadays, which isn’t saying much. The colors are certainly memorable throughout the movie, but I couldn’t help but feel like it went a bit overboard with the contrast.

However, Twixt does have a huge weakness that makes it nearly unwatchable: the writing lacks even the slightest semblance of coherence, as if Coppola was deliberately trying to outdo Twin Peaks and went a few steps too far into the void in the process. It might not be immediately evident from reading this blog, but I’m for a good art movie. That said, there is such a thing as trying too hard, and this movie absolutely reeks of it.  My guess is that Coppola over-corrected in the hopes of creating a laudable and redeeming art movie, and the result is transparently desperate.

twixt2Personally, I don’t think Twixt is a total failure of a movie. There are certainly some redeeming aspects to it, and I understand why some people have found it enjoyable. Personally, however, I really couldn’t get past how muddled the story and writing were. Despite some really good performances from Val Kilmer and Bruce Dern, as well as some decent cinematography, I would generally advise avoiding Twixt. Unless you have a high tolerance for nonsense or are on a completion crusade through the filmography of Francis Ford Coppola, give Twixt a pass.

Saturn 3

Saturn 3

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Continuing my current spotlight on the “Worst of the Best,” today’s feature is Stanley Donen’s 1980 science fiction flick Saturn 3.

The story for Saturn 3 is credited to John Barry, a production designer who worked on Star Wars, A Clockwork Orange, and Superman, and who was initially set to direct the film. The screenplay, however, was provided by acclaimed writer Martin Amis, and is to date his only listed screenplay credit on IMDb.

Saturn 3 was directed and produced by Stanley Donen, who is best known for memorable movies like Singin’ In The Rain, Charade, Funny Face, Seven Brides For Seven Brothers, and Bedazzled, but also closed out his career with a string of failures like Blame It On Rio, Lucky Lady, and Saturn 3.

The cinematographer for the movie was Billy Williams, whose career shooting credits include Gandhi, On Golden Pond, The Manhattan Project, and Voyage of the Damned.

The editor for Saturn 3 was Richard Marden, who cut movies like Hellraiser, Nightbreed, Blame It On Rio, and Sleuth, among many others.

Outside of director Stanley Donen, the producers for Saturn 3 were assistant director Eric Rattray, who was a producer on Labyrinth and an assistant director on Dr. Strangelove, and Martin Starger, whose credits include The Last Unicorn, Sophie’s Choice, Nashville, and The Muppet Movie.

The effects team for Saturn 3 included Colin Chilvers (Tommy, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Superman), Ann Brodie (Supergirl, Moonstruck, Barry Lyndon), Leonard Engelman (The Island of Doctor Moreau, Burlesque), Pauline Heys (Supergirl, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), Michael Dunleavy (Judge Dredd, Aliens, Supergirl, Krull), Peter Hutchinson (Moon, Star Wars Episode I), Terry Schubert (The Dark Crystal, Event Horizon), Roy Spencer (Lifeforce), Peter Parks (DeepStar Six, Leonard Part 6), Chris Corbould (Hudson Hawk, Highlander II, Supergirl), and Joe Fitt (Legend).

The musical score for Saturn 3 was composed by Elmer Bernstein, who also provided music for movies like Wild Wild West, Slipstream (1989), My Left Foot, Spies Like Us, Leonard Part 6, Ghostbusters, Heavy Metal, Airplane!, and Animal House, among many others. However, very little of his original score was used thanks to significant re-edits and the change of director on the film.

The cast for Saturn 3 is made up of Kirk Douglas (Paths of Glory, Spartacus, In Harm’s Way, Gunfight At The OK Corral, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea), Harvey Keitel (Star Knight, Beeper, Bad Lieutenant. Pulp Fiction, Taxi Driver, Reservoir Dogs), Farrah Fawcett (Logan’s Run, The Cannonball Run, Dr. T and The Women, Myra Breckinridge), and Roy Dotrice (Swimming With Sharks, Suburban Commando, Beauty and the Beast, Amadeus).

The plot of Saturn 3 is summarized on IMDb as follows:

Two lovers stationed at a remote base in the asteroid fields of Saturn are intruded upon by a retentive technocrat from Earth and his charge: a malevolent 8-ft robot. Remember, in space no one can hear you scream.

saturnthree2Saturn 3 had a change of director part way through filming, when Stanley Donen, who was initially just a producer on the project, took over many directing duties, which led to first time director John Barry leaving the production. Barry tragically died not long afterwards in 1979, while working on The Empire Strikes Back.

Bizarrely, Harvey Keitel’s voice is dubbed over throughout the film by character and voice actor Roy Dotrice, reportedly because Stanley Donen disliked Keitel’s natural Brooklyn accent.

Saturn 3 received three Golden Raspberry nominations in the first year of the award’s existence. The “Razzies” are now annually given out to the judged worst films and performances of a given year. Kirk Douglas and Farah Fawcett were both nominated for Worst Actor/Actress respectively, and the film as a whole was nominated for Worst Picture.

Currently, Saturn 3 holds an IMDb user rating of 5.0, alongside Rotten Tomatoes aggregate scores of 10% from critics and 31% from audiences. The film’s budget was reportedly cut early on, but it almost certainly failed to turn a profit with a $9 million total domestic gross.

First off, the dubbing work done over Kietel is beyond strange to me. The man has a distinct and instantly recognizable voice, so it seems bizarre that he would even be cast if there was an issue with his accent. The change in director part-way in might explain that to some degree, but Donen was already involved as a producer before taking on directing duties. Either way, it is impossible that a Brooklyn accent would be less distracting than an odd dubbing.

Kirk Douglas and Farah Fawcett, who are undoubtedly the core of this movie, couldn’t possibly have less chemistry between them. Personally, I’m shocked that both of them were cast, because the story essentially mandates a legitimate and believable level of compatibility between an older man and a younger woman, which just isn’t delivered here at all. Without that emotional center, the already flimsy story certainly doesn’t hold any water.

Speaking of which, the film is written almost entirely about anxieties over romantic age differences, with a thin veneer of science fiction on top. While that isn’t the worst idea I’ve ever heard, the result here just isn’t terribly interesting. Whereas Logan’s Run and Soylent Green successfully tapped into anxieties relating to age and aging, Saturn 3 manages to completely miss that mark, and fails to resonate at all as a result. The casting certainly contributed to this, but I don’t think the writing did them any favors either.

saturnthree3Roger Ebert was always at the top of his game when he wrote reviews for bad movies, and Saturn 3 was certainly no exception. His coverage of the movie nicely sums up one of its most glaring issues: the story and content is both astoundingly shallow.

The love triangle between Douglas, Fawcett and Keitel is so awkwardly and unbelievably handled that we are left in stunned indifference. The purpose of Keitel’s visit is left so unclear we can’t believe Douglas would accept it. The hostility of the robot is unexplained.

This movie is awesomely stupid, totally implausible from a scientific viewpoint, and a shameful waste of money. If Grade and Kastner intend to continue producing films with standards this low, I think they ought instead, in simple fairness, to simply give their money to filmmakers at random. The results couldn’t be worse.

Overall, Saturn 3 is a movie that had a potentially interesting vision behind it, but never quite got realized. It is mostly just a boring feature to sit through, but there is a peculiar sort of nostalgic value to sitting through it that helps fill in the void of conventional entertainment offered. Bad movie fans could certainly find something to enjoy here, but I don’t think it would hold much for general audiences.

The Ward

The Ward

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Today’s entry into “Worst of the Best” is John Carpenter’s 2010 effort, The Ward.

The Ward was written by the duo of Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, who also wrote the movies Long Distance, Dark Feed, and The Inhabitants.

The Ward is (to date) the final directorial effort of John Carpenter, who is highly regarded for both his horror and action movies, including Halloween, They Live, Escape From New York, Big Trouble In Little China, Assault on Precinct 13, The Fog, Starman, Christine, The Thing, and Vampires.

The cinematographer for the film was Yaron Orbach, who has worked extensively on Orange Is The New Black, as well as on movies like The Ten, Birds of America, The Open Road, and The Joneses.

The editor for The Ward was Patrick McMahon, who cut the 2008 remake of It’s Alive, Little Monsters, Strange Brew, P2, and A Nightmare On Elm Street, among others.

The producers for the movie included Peter Block (Saw, Saw II, Saw III, Crank), Doug Mankoff (Nebraska), Mike Marcus (You Kill Me), and Hans Ritter (Hard Candy).

The musical score for The Ward was provided by Mark Kilian, who provided music for movies like Traitor, Rendition, Pitch Perfect, and the television series Castle. This is particularly notable because historically, John Carpenter has provided most of his film’s scores himself.

The makeup effects were provided by a team that included Howard Berger (976-EVIL, Intruder, The People Under The Stairs, Vampires), Greg Nicotero (The Black Cat, Dreams in the Witch House, From Dusk Till Dawn 2, From Dusk Till Dawn 3, Maniac Cop 3), Kerrin Jackson (Son of the Mask, Jonah Hex), and Kevin Wasner (Catwoman, Jennifer’s Body).

The special effects unit for The Ward was made up in part by Brian Goehring (The Last Airbender, Species), Stephen Klineburger (Drive Angry), Dirk Rogers (The Stepford Wives, Collateral, Death Proof), Casey Pritchett (Vampires, Face/Off), Ray Brown (Class of 1999).

The cast of The Ward was made up of Amber Heard (The Rum Diary, Drive Angry, Zombieland), Mamie Gummer (Cake, Side Effects), Danielle Panabaker (The Flash, Friday the 13th), Laura-Leigh (We’re The Millers), Jared Harris (Dead Man, Lost In Space, Mad Men), Mika Boorem (The Patriot, Hearts In Atlantis), and Lyndsy Fonseca (Agent Carter, Kick-Ass).

The plot of The Ward is summarized on IMDb as follows:

An institutionalized young woman becomes terrorized by a ghost.

theward1The Ward currently has an IMDb user rating of 5.6, along with Rotten Tomatoes scores of 33% from critics and 27% from audiences. Financially, it lost a significant amount of money: on an estimated budget of $10 million, is grossed barely over $1 million, almost entirely from international markets.

The Ward isn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen. Really, it isn’t anywhere close to the worst. However, it represents a really disheartening fall from grace for both John Carpenter and the genre as a whole, because it is just so overwhelmingly mediocre and familiar. If there is anything that John Carpenter has never been in his career, it is familiar. Even his other arguable missteps, like Ghosts of Mars and Escape From L.A., still feel like John Carpenter at the end of the day. The Ward, however, seems like it could have been made by any half-assed horror director in Hollywood, and people just expected something better than that from Carpenter.

The most similar film in Carpenter’s filmography to The Ward is probably In The Mouth of Madness (though it is a stretch). Comparing the ways that the two movies (and the two versions of Carpenter) deal with a similar steady blurring of fiction and reality reveals a lot about why The Ward feels so tired and unremarkable. In The Mouth of Madness presented an eerie world from the start, where things feel off-kilter naturally, and the environment steadily declines until the conclusion of the second act, when sanity takes a nosedive. It is a profoundly surreal movie that utilizes fantastic effects work and visuals to create the atmosphere of a world descending into a Lovecraftian hell. The Ward, on the other hand, is never quite so dramatic. It is a slow story punctuated solely by jump-scares (a tired tactic), where the entire world seems to exist in a bland scale of sepia tones. The visuals are never particularly compelling, and the tension is mostly reliant upon musical cues. The world doesn’t feel as curious or strange on the whole, which ruins what could have been a really cool claustrophobic atmosphere. The whole direction of The Ward strikes me as passionless, like Carpenter went into autopilot and just wanted to color between the lines.

That said, there are some definite positives to The Ward. Specifically, I think that the performances are solid from top to bottom: Amber Heard deals with her leading responsibilities well, and Jared Harris absolutely kills it as the hospital’s primary doctor. The last act also sees the story and action start to kick into gear, and makes for a pretty compelling last 25 minutes or so.

Overall, The Ward isn’t bad so much as it is disappointing. I don’t think it is worse than the field at large, but Carpenter’s reputation looms over it, and might have put expectations on it that it couldn’t possibly have been lived up to. Regardless, it may very well stand as the final entry in Carpenter’s filmography, as much of a shame as that might be. However, for what it is worth, I though it was better than the flaming garbage pile that is Ghosts of Mars. Stay tuned for that one.