The name John Carpenter is usually enough for me to be drawn to a horror film. His best horror films are arguably the cult classics “Halloween”, “The Fog“, “In The Mouth of Madness” and “The Thing”; which I think were fine horror films in their own way. So, I was surprised with myself that it took me this long to finally check out Carpenter‘s “The Ward”. Yes, I guess the memories of “Ghosts of Mars” and “Village of the Damned” were still fresh in my brain since they were misfires that kind of gave the impression of his decline. We all know that a director is sometimes only as good as the screenplay, and well, while I cannot say that “The Ward” is going to become a classic and it certainly was unoriginal, but it certainly wasn’t a total failure.
A troubled young woman named Kristen (Amber Heard, Drive Angry) sets fire to an old farmhouse which leads the authorities to take her to a psychiatric hospital. Once there, she joins a group of other patients made up of Emily (Mamie Gummer), Sarah (Danielle Panabaker, Piranha 3DD), Zoe (Laura Leigh), Iris (Lyndsy Fonseca) under the care of Dr. Stringer (Jared Harris). However, it turns out that this is no ordinary psychiatric ward, as strange things do occur and it seems like someone or something is out to kill the patients. Kristen must plan her way to get out the ward and maybe figure out the mystery of Alice Hudson (Mika Boorem) and if it is indeed her angry spirit that seeks to torture her and the others.
I have to admit, “The Ward” really is an unoriginal horror film. This is not something that immediately turns me off, since this is the kind of the movie that you really don’t get that it borrows elements from other horror movies until its final act. Carpenter does not hide the fact that there may indeed be something amiss in the ward, and the viewer could kind of feel that it would be one of three things. It wasn’t that it was unpredictable, but the direction was able to keep me guessing as to which twist it would go into. From the beginning of the film, you could feel that there is a major revelation coming. The question to ask is how, what and why these things are going on.
The direction and screenplay does manage to foreshadow and even throw in some subtle clues as to what is going on. Sometimes these clues do make sense once you get to the last act, and sometimes, it made me want to scratch my head since some things did not fit. The screenplay did have some areas that felt that it did not fit once you try to put things together. However, Carpenter may have been able to hide those missteps with his editing, pacing and what can be called a ‘shock ending’. He keeps his audience busy with some intriguing interactions and some dream-like flashbacks in Kristen’s head. You know that the movie is not going to have a happy ending, it just so happens that you can wonder just how it would wrap things up. I am trying very hard not to give any further details since this is the kind of movie that could work the less you know of it. “The Ward” is the kind of film that would turn out familiar and yet it manages to not play its hand too soon.
The film would have been very impressive on its premise, if only the screenplay was a little more smoother in putting things together and wrapping things up. It did have its share of plot missteps but thankfully, the film had the benefit of having some pretty capable performances. Amber Heard did well in her portrayal as the determined, spunky Kristen as the story revolved around her as much as the story is developed around her. Carpenter uses his usual minimalist style in camera work, that gave the film a certain authenticity for a story that occurs in the 50’s. Make up effects were also done the old fashioned way, and the ghoul-like, ghost-like zombie looked intimidating. I found that the designs and set pieces were made to mimic those old thrillers in the 60’s, which gave the film’s atmosphere fitting to its premise (the 50’s were said to have been notorious with experimentation in psychiatric care).
“The Ward” is actually an entertaining film despite the fact that the pay off wasn’t as strong as it could’ve been. It wasn’t that the final revelation was bad, it just felt very familiar and felt eeriely similar to "Identity". It is a tricky thing, that despite the film’s success in foreshadowing, the pay off felt a little empty; this would be a more stronger feature if it came out before other psychological thrillers of this kind. Hey, at least, Carpenter’s “The Ward” was a lot better than “Ghosts of Mars”, and that by itself, it is worth a look even once as a rental.
** out of **** John Carpenter's "The Ward" is an uneven cataclysm; a mess, a bore, and kind of a dud. I can't say it's terribly bad, but it's a mood piece that has plenty of atmosphere and "jump scare" to boot, although the story is one that no amount of craft can support. Carpenter hasn't really made a good film for a while now, and this is his first directorial feature since 2001's "Ghosts of Mars". Will the man ever recover from his coma of mediocrity, or shall he remain … more
Star Rating: It would be unfair of me to say which psychological thriller John Carpenter’s The Ward rips off, for knowing even that tiny bit of information would spoil just about everything for you. I’m well aware that movies don’t automatically fail on the basis of their originality, or lack thereof, although I do wonder how filmmakers can be so unfamiliar with certain other movies, especially when they’re fairly well known to the paying … more