The Ward (2010) Dir. John Carpenter
What is the best way to spend a gloomy Sunday afternoon? Definitely NOT John Carpenter’s latest The Ward!
Carpenter begins his movie not with an earthquake, but with a fire. With a smirk on her face, Kristen (Amber Heard) sets fire to an old, shabby-looking house. Totally coincidentally, Kristen happens to be young and smoking hot (no pun intended) with blond hair and a nearly transparent white dress. After a few moments, a Police car comes, taking Kristen to a mental institution. There, she is locked in a ward for no apparent reason (setting fire to a house seems not enough) with a bunch of other crazy girls, who happen to be pretty chicks, as well. Is there a rule about a number of pretty, young girls in a horror movie, or what? After a few tedious and inconsequential scenes, the horror part starts – a ghost (or some other monster, we don’t know yet) kills off the inmates one by one. Kristen expresses great curiosity, wanting to figure out why the ghost attacks, which, as it turns out at the end, is crucial for the reason she’s in the asylum in the first place.
It surprises me that Carpenter doesn’t even pretend to develop his characters. Apart from bland and overly acted-out Kristen, we meet a couple of girls that are neither interesting nor likable in any way. Clearly, each of them is supposed to represent a different personality, but Carpenter with his two writers Michael Rasmussen and Shawn Rasmussen fail to bring us even one at least slightly intriguing character, not to mention a whole ward. How do we know the girls should differ? Each of them is dressed differently (an infantile girl with braids and a stuffed rabbit, or an artist type with a pen and a sketch notebook). It’s simply too obvious. Sadly, it’s one of many things in the movie that lack subtlety and intuition, not only from Carpenter’s previous movies, but in general.
As for the terror, it surprises me once again how not scary this movie is. There was no scene when I could force myself into being scared. After a few allegedly frightening moments, I assumed there must be more to it towards the end. Unfortunately, every not scary sequence brings us closer to a huge disappointment: this movie is bad. As a horror, it strictly follows rules of the genre, but it follows them too closely. It’s too schematic and painfully predictable. If a chick walks a dark corridor at night, the apparition terrorizing the ward must creep out at some point and grab her. And it happens at the exact moment when we expect it. However, Carpenter makes it even more painful for us since those scare-and-jump instances wouldn’t scare a little girl (another unintended pun). The ghost itself, or rather herself (a dead ex-patient coming back from the grave with a freakish grudge), presents herself quite pathetically – there’s nothing abominable and revolting about her. Bear in mind, we’re in a post-Ring horror era so it takes more than just a greenish makeup and loose hair to give us the jitters. Anyway, going back to the point, and the point being this is a bad movie, it’s nearly an hour and a half of boring, unimportant scenes interrupted by an embarrassingly dull ghost attacks. By the way, if you wanna a solid girls-in-an-asylum flick, watch rather Girl, Interrupted.
It also surprises me how heavily this movie is bugged with inconsistencies and nonsense. The psychiatric ward is a deserted place with only a few people of staff, who perhaps think they shouldn’t be in the patients’ way since they’re nowhere to be seen. All doors and passages are open for the girls to roam freely. My favorite is the medicine cabinet in the nurses’ room – it’s so easily accessible that it almost taunts the girls to stuff themselves with any of the colorful pills they could swallow. Another issue is the era when the action takes place. Carpenter gives us a psychiatric institution from the 50s, yet, at the same time, he fails to back up the choice of the 50s. Apart from the period clothing, there’s nothing that could suggest the 50s. The only reason might be the need to use lobotomy and electric shock treatment. By the way, shouldn’t a patient after such a treatment be in any way changed? Kristen’s behavior and state of mind stay exactly the way they were before they fried her brain. I don’t know what’s to blame – Carpenter’s poor direction, no indications in the script from the Rasmussen duo that there should be a slight change, or just no acting skills whatsoever on Heard’s part. Wow, the last sentence sounds like a complaint about the entire movie.
The Ward disappoints in every aspect. The plot is too thin, the characters too wishy-washy, the ghost too ridiculous. Carpenter combined all necessary ingredients for a psycho horror, but he evidently didn’t know how to cook it. Instead of using his great experience as a master of horror, he made this movie by the book, but what book I don’t know. It smells like Movie Making for Dummies. I truly wanted to enjoy the show. What I got was a disappointment through and through. With all my respect and admiration for Carpenter, a piece of advice for one of my favorite directors: don’t commit any more crimes against horror genre unless it’s gonna swipe us, your devoted fans, off our feet with fright.
Long days, pleasant nights,