John Carpenter’s The Ward – 10 years is way too long a wait for a Carpenter feature…


The Ward has been highly anticipated by scores of horror fans.  Its been years since we first heard of its genesis and after waiting for its release, being pushed back over and over again, The Ward has finally come to North America on Blu-ray and DVD.  How Carpenter can’t be bankable for a theatrical release in (at the very least) the U.S. is a big shock here.  The box office take for Mr. Carpenter’s last feature was unfortunately abysmal.  Regardless.  This is a man that ruled the horror genre with genius releases in the 1980s and 90s.   I would think a large loyal following of fans would pay to see his return to the big screen after such a long hiatus.    But I’ll settle for hi-def DTS goodness in the privacy of my own home.

Synopsis:

In John Carpenter’s THE WARD, Kristen, a beautiful but troubled young woman, finds herself bruised, cut, drugged, and held against her will in a remote ward of a Psychiatric Hospital. She is completely disoriented, with no idea why she was brought to this place and no memory of her life before being admitted. All she knows is that she isn’t safe. The other patients in the ward, four equally disturbed young women, offer no answers, and Kristen quickly realizes things are not as they seem. The air is heavy with secrets, and at night, when the hospital is dark and foreboding, she hears strange and frightening sounds. It appears they are not alone. One-by-one the other girls begin to disappear and Kristen must find a way out of this hellish place before she, too, becomes a victim. As she struggles to escape, she will uncover a truth far more dangerous and horrifying than anyone could have imagined.

Look away! I'm hideous!!

There were some who had said this movie was mediocre, at best.  That it didn’t feel like a Carpenter film.  A large part of that is due to the fact that Carpenter neither wrote the script nor (most unfortunately) the score for this film.  In the early days Mr. Carpenter had direct control over both those territories, as well as directing his films and he always seemed to hit the right mark.  His multiple talents as a film maker have usually served him and his fans well.   With that being said The Ward opens with a short shocker followed by very recognisable opening titles.  Only John Carpenter can put his name over a movie’s title in his classic Albertus MT font.  Once I saw that combination on the screen, I instantly fell in love with the music and mosaic shattered glass credits which eased us into the beginning of the story.

I’m always a sucker for films that take place in a single setting.  The Ward uses that to its advantage.  Setting it in 1966 was a refreshing change from most of the hip-hop laced conventional horror movies we’ve been handed the last few years.  The film does a remarkable job making you believe you are back in the medical past.  In that respect it had a House on Haunted Hill feel to it.

The hospital staff are a bit one dimensional.  The orderly is kind of a dink but has some qualities.   This movie has its own Nurse Ratchet (minus any charm that character may have offered).  At any moment I half expected a young, loony Jack Nicholson to pop out from a room, the Cuckoo’s Nest vibe was that strong.  Its the performance of the lead character, Kristen (played by the lovely Amber Heard) that really seals the movie.  No one was an oscar winner this time around but Heard’s emotion was genuine and her interaction with all the other characters was well done.

Vulnerable? In the middle of a shower? I'm intrigued!!

The other inmates in the ward are all a bunch of little minxes, each with very different personalities including an artsy goody-goody, a mildly insane chick , a stuck up bitch, and a meek little Cindy Brady…..literally.  Usually an adult dressed up like a young girl with curled pig tails, sucking her thumb and playing the role represents a common (and somewhat unwholesome) male fantasy.  I didn’t know if that was the point of her character or not.  There was no sexualising her in any way but there was some implied sexual nastiness involved in the story.  The chemistry between the inmates with their contrasting characteristics was never boring.  And as a male viewer, none of them were hard on the eyes.

Yes, yes, yes and yes please!!

The Ward comes off as a ghost story but its slightly askew.  There are a few moments of gore that was welcomed by myself.  We can thank the talented Greg Nicotero and his team for those goodies.  The makeup was well done.  One of my problems with The Ward was the overkill on the cheap popup scares.  I expect a couple here and there (and I love the exhilaration when it happens) in this kind of movie but after the 4th or 5th time and with the setups becoming more and more apparent,  it gets a bit redundant and becomes just that….cheap.  I would think Mr. Carpenter would have a bit more style than to resort to this common trick.  But this is his first feature in a decade.  I’ll cut him the slack.

About half way through the movie you stop taking it at face value because you realise something just isn’t quite right and an answer for everything will present itself.  You just need to be patient.  And indeed, thats what happened.  I was reminded of The Sixth Sense in a few situations and wonder if that film was in the writer’s head at any time.  I appreciate a story that gives you one small piece of a perspective, slowly unfolds it and then suddenly, when the time is right, opens the book entirely to show you the big picture.  Its smart and a formula that seems to work most of the time.  The Ward is no exception.

I don’t want to give anything in the story away so let me just conclude by saying that I really enjoyed being able to give my full attention to a new Carpenter movie.  It was a long time coming.  The lighting and camera work was solid.  I certainly suggest you watch it.  There will be some people who don’t like The Ward because, admittedly,  it isn’t up to the standards of earlier Carpenter flicks.  But it is a horror movie, 100%.  It has all the elements that go with the genre.  Its intelligent and well produced.  A good effort was given by all involved.  I only hope that I don’t have to wait another 10 years for another Carpenter film.  He’ll always be one of my favourite genre directors and at any time I can throw in Halloween or The Thing and reminisce on the absolute brilliance he once shared with us.

The Ward gets 3.5/5 shades

 

"I don't believe that you realise just who I am."

Cash Wampum

 

Check out the trailer for The Ward…

 

 


7 comments

  1. Nathan says:

    You could tell that Carpenter didn’t have the passion for this project like he does with his own and was just cashing a paycheck. The thing is, uninspired “going through the motions” Carpenter still shoots a film better than 95% of the directors out there. In the age of shaky cam nonsense, it was visually classic, beautiful, artistic, and did show small glimpses of Carpenter brilliance. It was good, but it wasn’t quite “John Carpenter” good. One only has to look back to 2005 and Cigarette Burns to know that, given the right project, the man’s still got it.

    1. cash says:

      Agreed. Cigarette Burns was by far the most superior episode out of BOTH seasons of Masters of Horror.

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