Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Amber Heard, Lyndsy Fonseca, Mamie Gummer
RunTime: 1 hr 29 mins
Released By: GV
Rating: NC-16 (Horror and Some Disturbing Scenes)
Opening Date: 16 June 2011
Synopsis: In The Ward, Kristen (Amber Heard), early 20s, wakes to find herself bruised, cut, drugged and held against her will in a remote ward of a psychiatric hospital. She is disoriented and has no idea why she was brought to this place. At night, she becomes aware of a ghostly presence. 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 the ghost comes for her too..
It’s been a decade since we’ve seen anything from horror master John Carpenter, the director of such classic horror flicks like Halloween (1978), The Fog (1980) and The Thing (1982). The poorly received science fiction horror Ghosts From Mars (2001) was his last before this, but Carpenter has returned from his hiatus to his low-budget old-fashioned horror roots with this latest.
Unfortunately, that return comes just one year too late, for it arrives after the much superior Martin Scorcese film Shutter Island (2010). The initial set-up may be slightly different, but the premise, right down to its final twist, just bears too many similarities to Scorcese’s film to impress. What’s more, Carpenter’s film also lacks the psychological element that differentiated Shutter Island from its ilk, and comes off as no more than a well-made B-horror that offers nothing new.
The psychiatric hospital in question here is called North Bend, and a brief prologue which shows the lead character Kristen (Amber Heard) inexplicably running through a forest, burning down a farmhouse and subsequently arrested by the local police brings us to the said mental institution. The rest of the inhabitants of North Bend seem to have been created out of the rulebook for such genre flicks- the four other ‘kooky nutters’ Kristen shares the same ward with, the creepy doctor and the stern matron.
Among the other ‘crazies’ are the self-absorbed nympho Sarah (Danielle Panabaker), the reticent artist Iris (Lyndsy Fonseca), the insecure Emily (Mamie Gummer) and the emotionally stilted Zoey (Laura Leigh), all of whom are somehow linked to a ghost that prowls the hallways of the hospital looking for revenge. And like clockwork, writers Michael and Shawn Rasmussen try to distract you with the type of red herrings you’ve seen in countless such films.
So the Dr Stringer (Jared Harris) may be up to no good with his research, the matron could be administering some form of drug that keeps the patients sedate and finally, there just might be a previous patient called Alice (Mika Boorem) who could very well be the heinous spirit lurking around. Carpenter works hard to build up the atmosphere throughout the film, and his strident efforts overcome somewhat the lack of conviction the screenplay displays in its elaboration of any of these plot strands.
Indeed, even though Carpenter seems to have caved in to the trend of boo-scares, he does most of these with more flair than the average filmmaker, especially when it comes to the buildup just before. Nevertheless, he is ultimately let down by a subpar plot, as well as a twist ending that isn’t quite as clever as it wants to be- particularly coming in the wake of movies like Identity (1999) and yes Scorcese’s Shutter Island.
Carpenter has however found a great lead actress in Heard, and the star who broke out with the low-budget horror All the Boys Love Mandy Lane (2005) and stole the screen from Nicholas Cage in Drive Angry (2010) continues to prove that she has the kind of screen presence you want to watch out for in future. The same cannot be said of the supporting cast, who do little but go through their roles in rote.
The fault of course doesn’t lie with Carpenter, who does his best with a script that is underneath his talents. Yet it’s inevitable that one expects more from a comeback film by the legendary horror master, and The Ward while with some finely-crafted shocks and a steady pace seems too unambitious for someone of his stature. It is also arriving too late, especially when other genre films have already spoilt its surprise. If you’re starving for some horror, this will probably satisfy your hunger for jolts; otherwise, you’ll be advised to give this a miss.
(John Carpenter’s first film in ten years delivers some well-crafted shocks and moves along at a steady pace- but it seems no more than a far less superior copy of Martin Scorcese’s Shutter Island)
Review by Gabriel Chong