Director: John Carpenter (2010)
Starring: Amber Heard, Lyndsy Fonseca, Danielle Panabaker
Find it: IMDB
A subdued return to the genre by horror maestro John Carpenter, The Ward is perfectly fine by anyone else's standards but a disappointment by his own. The Ward is to John Carpenter what Red Eye is to Wes Craven and The Toolbox Murders is to Tobe Hooper. All good films, but a million miles away from the masterpieces that made them famous.
Carpenter, mind, made his return to form years ago with Cigarette Burns - maybe the best Masters Of Horror episode (and proving himself worthy of that title) before losing it again with Pro Life (one of the worst). The Ward is no Cigarette Burns, but nor is it a Pro Life. It's simply another Ghosts Of Mars (shut up, I enjoyed it) or Vampires (ditto).
I don't know what Amber heard, but she didn't like it very much...
In The Ward, Kristen (Heard) is institutionalized after burning down a farm house. Unfortunately it looks like she's gone and found herself in a haunted hospital, since she and her inmates are regularly attacked by an ugly ghost woman who bumps them off one by one. But nobody believes her, because she's supposed to be crazy, see. It's like One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest meets Halloween. Except The Ward is in no way as good as Halloween.
Despite a great location, a great lead actress and some creepy spook sequences, The Ward feels like something I've seen many times before. The plot is exactly the same as New Zealand horror-comedy Diagnosis: Death, whilst it robs elements from Shutter Island and a couple of movies I can't mention for fear of spoiling the twist. Suffice to say that by the time the end credits roll, you'll be thinking "oh. So he went there, did he." It ruins much of what came before - and none of that was all too good in the first place.
Furthermore, aside from the typically wonderful Amber Heard, it's a ward populated by horrendously irritating characters. As the script mistakes 'crazy' for 'pain in the arsehole', The Ward gives us Danielle Panabaker doing a silly Posh Slapper routine, Lyndsy Fonseca wearing massive glasses as being 'kooky' and a truly horrible character who sucks her thumb and talks in a babylike voice. Ugh. Heard's Kristen is a strong heroine in the tradition of Laurie Strode, but without her Michael, sympathetic supporting cast or any of Halloween's vicious originality, she's a little girl lost. Heard capably carries the movie; it's easy to see how she's the Scream Queen du jour of mainstream horror cinema.
Carpenter's skills as a director, whilst muted, elevate the movie's duller moments. The ghost stalking the asylum and its inmates is spookily realised, and the kill scenes are good if goreless. Scenes which have Kristen on the run from both her captors and the ghost are tense and thrilling. There are a couple of decent jump scares. But I'm making apologies for The Ward purely because it's a John Carpenter movie. By any standards, it's run-of-the-mill, let alone those of the man who brought us Halloween, The Thing, The Fog, Escape From New York, and Assault On Precinct 13. Mildly watchable as it is, I can't help but be disappointed. After all, I was really looking forWard to this movie.