OUT TODAY ON DVD & BLU-RAY!
A young woman is sent to a mental institution with a past as dark as her own. Terrorized by a ghost, each of the other patients in the ward begin to disappear, and that's just the beginning of her long nightmare.
A decade after making his last feature length film (2001's Ghosts of Mars ... blah), John Carpenter returns to the scene of the crime, this time locking himself in a nut house with some pretty dang sexy ladies. Despite the fact that The Ward has gotten many lackluster reviews pretty much across the board, diehard horror nuts like ourselves can't help but get excited about the return of John Carpenter, am I right? After hearing nothing but bad things about this one for a while, I still found myself giddy tonight while I tossed my bag of super butter popcorn in the microwave and slid the disc into my PS3. I couldn't help it, both because i'm a fan of Carpenter (who reading this isn't?) and because I have quite the budding crush on Amber Heard, who was won me over twice before with Drive Angry and All The Boys Love Mandy Lane. Still though, I couldn't help but feel like I had already seen this one before it even started, based on the plot and trailers. I soon realized this inkling wasn't too far off.
The fact of the matter is that The Ward is really not a bad film by any means. It's certaintly competently made and held my interest for the full hour and a half. But there are two major things working against one's enjoyment of the film, which is likely where the majority of the bashing of this one comes from. Any claims that it's a terrible or poorly made film just aren't fair or (in my opinion) accurate. What it all boils down to is that it's far too generic and, ironic as it is to use as a negative point, that it's directed by John Carpenter. More on that second point in a minute.
The biggest fault of The Ward is simply that there have been a handful of psych ward horror films that have come before it, many dealing with the same ideas and hitting the exact same beats. It's like watching a movie you've already seen before and there's really nothing that seperates it from the pack or leaves any kind of impression other than a strange sense of deja vu. It's like Girl, Interrupted meets Shutter Island meets just about every other nut house movie out there. All of the tropes of those movies are there in full force; the new patient who refuses to take the pills and seems to be smarter than everyone else (and who may or may not actually be nuts), the ward full of pretty girls that look more like they belong in a high schooler's spank bank rolodex than in an insane asylum, the thunder and lightning that surrounds the hospital whenever the sun goes down, the mysterious former patients who have seemingly vanished, the twist ending you saw coming from a mile away. It's just a completely generic and fairly mediocre script and while it is made better by the talents of Carpenter and the always watchable Heard, they can unfortunately only do so much. Bottom line being, it's just too familiar and far too by the numbers for my liking.
The other fault of the movie is that it's got that iconic name of John Carpenter attached to it, which might as well be the other JC as far as us horror nerds are concerned. Carpenter directs the film quite well, with that visual flair still very much in tact, so don't get me wrong here. Carpenter does no wrong on the directing front. But here's the thing. When you see a mediocre horror movie directed by a master of horror, it inevitably comes out smelling worse than it really does. We expect nothing short of masterpieces from guys like Carpenter and unfortunately, when they don't fully deliver, that mediocrity feels like garbage to many. Honestly if I didn't know any better I would've thought this movie was directed by some random dude, not the guy who brought us movies like Halloween and The Thing, and I feel much of the hatred that's been spewed toward this one is due to this fact. It just doesn't feel like a Carpenter film and when diehard Carpenter fans sit down to watch it, they're inevitably going to be dissapointed by its mediocrity. I'm not saying the same movie would be hailed as one of the best of the year if it were directed by some unknown guy, but i'm pretty certain people wouldn't be so hard on it if that were the case. I'm also not suggesting that we shouldn't expect more from Carpenter, as we probably should, but I just want to make it clear that The Ward is not a bad movie, it's just nothing special when you put it in the context that it was directed by John Carpenter. But hey, at least it's miles better than what some other legendary horror filmmakers are putting out these days. *Cough* My Soul To Take *Cough*
So that's my two cents. The Ward is a totally mediocre and completely watchable/enjoyable movie, it just falls by the wayside given the familiarity of it all and the fact that it's not up to snuff with most of John Carpenter's output. I can only see my memory mushing it together with all of the other similar films that have come before it, which is not something I should ever be able to say about the work of a 'master of horror'. That said, I have full faith that this JC will have a true second coming real soon. So don't write him off just yet, folks.
Oh and one last thing ...
I love you Amber Heard. And I love that I can almost see up your dress on that cover art. You tease.