Director – John Carpenter
Cast – Amber Heard, Mamie Gummer, Danielle Panabaker, Laura-Leigh, Lyndsy Fonseca, Jared Harris, Sydney Sweeney, D.R. Anderson, Mika Boorem, Sean Cook, Jillian Kramer
Release Year – 2011
Reviewed by John of the Dead
I remember being very stoked when I first read about The Ward a few years ago because it would be the first full-length feature film from John Carpenter(Halloween, The Thing, In the Mouth of Madness, They Live, Prince of Darkness) since his terrible 2001 effort, Ghosts of Mars. Ever since the film’s premier at the TIFF in September of 2010 I have heard pretty much non-stop negative banter about this effort, and how John Carpenter has lost “it” with another dead-end feature film. Well, after finally viewing this film myself I can say that while The Ward definitely comes with its faults I found it to be an enjoyable psychological/supernatural horror film from one of horror’s greatest heroes.
Amber Heard(All the Boys Love Mandy Lane, And Soon the Darkness, Zombieland, Drive Angry 3D, The Stepfather remake) stars as Kristen, a woman on the run from her dark past who after setting fire to her childhood home finds herself locked in a mental institution with several other girls her age. Soon after her arrival she is tormented physically and mentally by the ghastly apparition of a girl, and when her questions to Dr. Stringer(Jared Harris; Resident Evil: Apocalypse, “Fringe”, Tales of the Black Freighter, From Within, Lady in the Water) about the ghost and the disappearances of her cohorts go unanswered, her quest to discover the truth behind the haunting leads her down a deadly path with shocking results.
I really do not understand the hate for this film, and honestly feel that it lies on the hope many horror fans had that John Carpenter would deliver a superb horror film in the vein of his earlier works and failed to do so. Had this film been delivered by another director, especially of the no-name variety, I honestly feel that The Ward would not have met the same insane amount of hate as it has with Carpenter at the helm.
The storyline is one we have seen time and time again, in which our protagonist suffers supernatural horrors while locked up in a mental institution and his/her concerns go ignored by the staff and patients who are obviously hiding something that occurred before his/her time there. Despite this being a cliché storyline I did find joy in the idea due to writers Michael and Shawn Rasmussen delivering a good amount of horror in this story. Our lead character Kristen carries the film, coming across adversity in every corner as she tries to recover from her troubled childhood while also trying to survive her encounters with the vengeful spirit that is slowly killing off the patients around her in savage fashion. While we get a good number of characters thrown into the film, some with a lot more screen time than others, I found none of them to be useless and each of them provided their own worth to the film. Some were used merely for conflict, others to aid Kristen, and most of them were also used to serve as victims, which I appreciated greatly. I was glad to see that we get a fair amount of kills thrown into this piece, and each paced at just the right time to keep me engaged throughout this well-paced 88 minute effort. Most of the kills were enjoyable and provided the violence I wanted to see, and the overall usage of the ghost was great as we were given many scenes in which she made a ghastly appearance, even though a good amount of them were the typical cliché pop-up scares. All of this boils down to a shocking climax that I honestly never saw coming, and while the climax itself was the not first time I have seen it used I was glad that it is a rarely used one that made for an enjoyable way to close out this story.
What I was looking forward to most in this film was John Carpenter’s direction, and from the get-go he had me hooked thanks to awesome atmosphere and superb camerawork. His sets are dark, shadowy, gloomy, and he makes excellent use of them by using each to full potential as he delivers good horror complimenting the atmosphere. The usage of the ghost was cliché, coming via constant pop-up scares and other tricks often seen in the supernatural sub-genre, but nonetheless his execution of these clichés was top-notch and that is exactly why I found little negativity with them. I loved the look of the girl and the mannerisms she displayed, and Carpenter gave us a sweet full-frontal experience during the sweet kill sequences, and much to my surprise he delivered some good gore scenes as well. His execution of the actors involved was great, with each of them filling their role as they were intended to be portrayed, especially Amber Heard and Jared Harris, both of whom we are beginning to see much more of in the horror genre. His musical score was great, and at times very reminiscent of Argento’s musical scores from his earlier days, in the end making for a fun and enjoyable horror effort that I feel is suffering from impulsive and unfair criticism.
Overall, The Ward is a fun horror flick marking the return of John Carpenter to the full-length feature horror scene after almost a decade. Do not be dismayed by the hate this film is receiving on other horror sites and give this one a watch for yourself, devoid of any prejudice and with an open mind. The storyline is far from original and comes with numerous clichés, but Carpenter’s direction makes what could have been a typical run-of-the-mill supernatural effort into an enjoyable horror experience with his awesome atmosphere and good resulting horror.