A surprisingly tame outing for horror master John Carpenter, The Ward plays more as a mystery/suspense film. It begins as a dark drama about a group of girls in a psych ward and then slowly shifts gears when a ghost seemingly starts stalking them. Starring Amber Heard, Danielle Panabaker, Lyndsy Fonseca, and Jared Harris, the cast is quite good and give fairly strong performances. The script however, is a little weak. By and large the story feels familiar and makes several obvious hints as to what the twists will be. Still, the plot comes together rather well and delivers a few chills. Though different from the typical Carpenter flick, The Ward has a bit of his trademark style and is a pretty solid psychological thriller.
An exciting, stylistic teen horror film, The Craft is a cult hit that helped to revitalize the horror genre in the late '90s. After moving to a new town and enrolling in a private school, Sarah Bailey is befriended by a group of aspiring witches and is persuaded to join them; which completes their circle of four and allows them to tap into supernatural powers. Starring Robin Tunney, Neve Campbell, Fairuza Balk, and Skeet Ulrich, the film has a fresh young cast that has a lot of charisma. However, the writing is a little weak, particularly when it comes to the witchcraft, which is ill-defined and changes to fit the needs of the plot. And the story is heavily reliant on tropes and cliches; i.e. love spells, revenge against bullies, power corrupting, white vs. black magic, etc. Yet despite its lack of originality, The Craft is an entertaining and suspenseful thriller.
Full of suspense and intrigue, The Bag Man in an effective (but not completely engaging) noir thriller. The story follows a professional criminal who's hired to deliver a mysterious bag to a seedy backwater motel, but he soon discovers that there are others after the bag and that nobody is what they seem. Starring John Cusack, Robert De Niro, Rebecca Da Costa, and Dominic Purcell, the cast isn't half bad. But the writing is rather weak, and uses a lot of tropes and cliches. The directing is also problematic, and makes the film seem small and cheaply made. But production issues aside, The Bag Man is a fairly compelling thriller with interesting characters.
Nicolas Cage stars in the revenge thriller Rage. After his 16-year-old daughter is kidnapped and murdered former mobster Paul Maguire reaches out to his old crew to help him find and kill those responsible. Rachel Nichols, Danny Glover, and Peter Stormare co-star and deliver strong performances. But this is Cage's film to make or break, and his performance is especial good and quite nuanced; showing the weight of a man haunted by his past. The plot is pretty formulaic for the most part, but it does do an impressive job at showing the cycle of violence and its costs. While limited by the material, Rage ends up being a little better than the standard action film.
From director David Ayer comes the gritty suspense thriller Sabotage. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sam Worthington, Josh Holloway, and Mirelle Enos lead the cast and give strong performances; especially Enos, who plays a very challenging role. The story follows a DEA unit that is being hunted down and killed after stealing $10 million from a drug cartel. It's pretty stereotypical stuff, tough as nails agents that don't play by the rules, double-crosses and betrayals, etc., etc. Still, the action is well-done; full fast-paced and intense chase and fight sequences. Sabotage tries to be harder and more visceral than the average action film, but it doesn't end up making it any better.