Written by Michael Rasmussen & Shawn Rasmussen
Directed by John Carpenter
I wish I could say this film marks the triumphant return of John Carpenter, but in the end it’s simply just the return. The Ward may not be winning any awards or blowing anyone away, but it’s still a nice old-fashioned horror tale. My love of horror isn’t so elitist that it keeps me from missing out on less than amazing films like this one.
We meet Kristen, the gorgeous Amber Heard, running through the woods in a nightgown in the film’s opening moments. Looking over her shoulder as police sirens grow closer, she finds a mysterious farmhouse and promptly torches the place. A look of satisfaction grows on her face as she’s placed under arrest. Her arsonist ways land her in a mental ward inhabited with a few other young girls (all too pretty to be believable as 1966 mental patients) of varying psychosis. Her co-patients tell her no one ever gets out, but a few girls have mysteriously vanished as of late.
In the film’s best-acted role is Kristen’s physician, Dr. Stringer, Jared Harris of Mad Men/Fringe fame, who seems to legitimately want to help her. When meds and talk therapy doesn’t work, the good doctor resorts to electroshock therapy and the like. Trauma cures trauma right? As the film moves forward, Kristen and the other girls begin to see a ghost, one intent on administering therapy of it’s own. Carpenter settles for shocks in this film, complete with an imperfect twist at the end, but it’s still worth the watch.
This is no Halloween or Prince of Darkness, so give that up before you go in and you might be pleasantly surprised. The Ward is full of classic Carpenter film-making, including complex crane and dolly work even though the shots are less pronounced as the film nears it’s climax.
Carpenter captures the atmosphere wonderfully, making creative use of the drab and muted sterility of the institution. The acting is competent, never letting you stop fearing for Kristen and the other patients. Heard does a nice job of getting your attention early and keeping it. While this isn’t the return most Carpenter fans hoped for, it is a nice start. It’s till 100 times better than all the ridiculous remakes and stunted incompetency being peddled as horror these days. It’s easy to see why Carpenter became disenchanted and left Hollywood – contemporary horror can be frustrating to put it mildly. Hopefully this brings him back for future greatness. Fingers crossed.