Friday, April 27, 2012

The Ward (2010)

Well here is John Carpenter’s latest film, and coming nearly five years after his installment for Masters of Horror and almost a full nine years after his last theatrical film Ghosts of Mars. Is he breaking new ground or sticking with the tried and true? But more importantly, is the movie scary?

Kristen (Amber Heard) is a very disturbed young woman. She is found in front of a burning farmhouse ranting and raving. That is why she ends up in the North Bend Psychiatric Hospital. And since it’s 1966, there’s some experimental treatments going on as well as the classic electroshock therapy. She meets the other gals in the ward, as well as what appears to be a very pissed off ghost. This specter is targeting all the girls and taking lives. But the staff believes that these traumatized women are just suffering from their own mental and drug related issues. Will Kristen be able to solve the mystery of the haunting and escape the hell of The Ward?

Good Points:
  • Solid performances all the way around
  • Some great mood setting scenes
  • Has a good mix of jump scares and gore

Bad Points:
  • The setting and plot are pretty familiar
  • The twist ending may be pretty obvious to some viewers
  • Those with high expectations will be disappointed

I think some folks were really hoping for a grand slam here, but what you get instead is a respectable double. All the elements work well enough to create some tension and a few good scares. But the story and the unreliable point of view are nothing terribly new. The script could have used an injection of unique, and that could have really made this something interesting. Otherwise you’ve got an average horror film, handled in a functional way.

Scores (out of 5)
Visuals: 4
Sound: 3
Acting: 3
Script: 3
Music: 3
Direction: 3
Entertainment: 3
Total:  3

In Depth Review

I think the main problem I’ve seen in other reviews of The Ward is that expectations are sky high for any Carpenter film. Everyone wants him to make another Halloween or The Thing. But most filmmakers just can’t crank out top-notch material every time, especially directors who have to play within the budgets they’ve got to deal with.

What seems odd about Carpenter is that his films seem to find audiences a few years after the movie is released. The Thing was really slammed and ignored by audiences back in 1982, but now its considered one of the best horror films of the ‘80s. No one knew what to make of Big Trouble in Little China when it was released, but now with anime and comic book films being so prevalent it has a strong following.

I get the feeling that The Ward is going to fall in the same boat. It’s not a game changer by any means. But is an effective horror film, with some very good acting and excellent suspense building.

Carpenter does enjoy using long slow shots to build tension. These days it’s rare to see any shot lasting longer than thirty seconds. And some folks just don’t have the patience for it. There is more than a little Kubrick in the style of The Ward and for me it worked excellently to build atmosphere and make those jump scares really count.

The period is also used to a good advantage here. Once we see the old equipment used in the ward, we know just how bad this can turn out. In addition, the head doctor is using experimental treatments, and that always leaves a little room for something to go awry. Combine this with an unreliable main character and it keeps viewers guess at what they are really seeing.

Usually Carpenter creates his own music for his films (and boy did he love his keyboards back in the ‘80s). This time he’s got Mark Kilian to compose some very interesting stuff. There’s quite a bit that sounds like Carpenter’s typical stuff, but the opening credits music and images do a great job of setting the mood.

I also have to give all the actresses some credit here. They do a good job making us feel bad for them and want them to get out of the situation alive. I’ve never seen Heard in anything before this, and she does a real great job here. She’s in nearly every scene of the film and her emotions run the gamut, but she always keeps the performance grounded and that keeps us rooting for her.

But one issue here is the story. It’s either going to work for you or it’s not. The twist is very familiar, and was used in a recent Hollywood film to great and memorable effect. Many of the reviews I read compared the two films with The Ward losing the battle. But these movies are quite different in their goals and themes.

Besides to ignore this movie is to miss out on some very good performances, some great jump scares, excellent atmosphere and a solid nights entertainment. Yes, this is an average horror film, but compared to some of the crappy horror flicks floating around out there now, this feels like a real breath of fresh air.