The return of John Carpenter to feature filmmaking after a 10-year absence should be cause for shivery rejoicing, but "The Ward" is bland shock therapy from the guy who reinvented bloody peek-a-boo with the classic "Halloween."
All the elements seemed to be in place for another one of his claustrophobically sublime and ridiculous portraits of siege mentality, a la "Assault on Precinct 13" and "The Thing." But this '60s-era tale set in a Victorian-designed mental institution — in which young Tippi Hedren-blond amnesiac Kristen (Amber Heard) tussles with hospital authority (Jared Harris), her fellow female inmates (including Meryl Streep's daughter Mamie Gummer) and ever-more violent visions associated with a former patient — feels like a foot-wetting exercise rather than a full-bodied romp in familiar waters.
Archival drawings of madness and torture over the credits and establishing images of the hospital's architectural breadth make for a promising beginning, and writers Michael and Shawn Rasmussen's final twist manages some potboiler heft.
But the movie's meat — loony bin overacting, juice-less scares, lackluster pacing — keep this from being the down-and-dirty asylum-hotties corrective to "Sucker Punch" one might have hoped it would be.
"The Ward." MPAA rating: R for violence and disturbing images. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes. At AMC Loews Broadway Cinemas 4, Santa Monica.