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The Ward (2011)
21st Oct 11
Amber Heard is terrorised by a malevolent, ghostly being in a psychiatric unit. Don't expect any boobs.
Many have suggested that The Ward is a partial, if not complete, return to form for Carpenter, so it's only natural to look forward to this release with considerable anticipation. Alas, this feels like a grandfather trying to impress his grandchildren by dancing to hip hop at a family wedding. If you've managed to miss a lot of horror films from the last, say, fifteen years, then it will probably do what it is expected of it: to scare the living shit out of you. Problem is, you have seen a lot of contemporary horror films - that's probably why you're reading this right now - so basically, The Ward won't really surprise you. Although perhaps that also depends on how loud you have your sound system turned up.
Set in the 1960's, The Ward sees Kristen (Amber Heard) locked up in the high security psychiatric unit after burning down an abandoned farmhouse. Turns out the titular ward is also home to a handful of other sanity-challenged young ladies, most of whom are conveniently hot. What are the chances of that, eh? They speak of Dr Stringer's (Jared Harris) unusual psychiatric methods, and generally bitch and moan when not conforming to every old school stereotype to help them look them mentally ill. During a truly bizarre group shower scene - bizarre in that Carpenter miraculously manages to avoid showing one single boob - a ghostly figure appears in the background, then re-appears in the foreground, grabbing Kristin's throat, leaving her screaming for help which of course only strengthens the staffs' belief that she is barking mad. Then, one by one, the other girls are barbarically slaughtered by this malevolent, ghostly thing of nastiness via various methods, always using the unit's many forms of 'treatment' as the disposal method. But who is this presence anyway? And can Kristen manage to escape before she becomes the next victim?
It's not all as simple of this of course; Carpenter adds another layer in the last part of the movie, but it's hackneyed and just a bit silly, which is something you'll probably agree with if you manage to get to this part without switching it off first. Problem is, the mechanics of modern horror have evolved since Carpenter's wonderful early years. He practically invented the jump-scare with Halloween, which had late 70's audiences throwing their popcorn all over the place, and he does try to recreate these type of moments here with very disappointing results. I found myself feeling a little sorry for him during those designed scare moments to be honest; I could see them coming a mile off and hence they simply had no effect.
Romero did similar a while back with Survival of the Dead, which although quite terrible, did at least have a personal vision behind it. Brothers Michael and Sean Rasmussen penned The Ward and it begs the question, just what sort of scripts are being presented to Carpenter when something like this gets green lit? One can only wish that Carpenter puts a new refill cartridge in that rusty old pen and proffer up the goods like he did so many years ago, but sadly it feels like that's just not on the cards.
It would seem that Carpenter has also sent his Casio synthesiser in for repair because scoring duties have been delegated to Mark Kilian, who tries his best to do Carpenter sounds, but ultimately fails to do what Morricone did all those years ago when scoring The Thing. Remember that movie? Yeah, I thought you would.
I hate being harsh on Carpenter because we've grown up on his best movies, and in my humble opinion his last satisfying outing was his stab at reviving the genre back in 1994 with In the Mouth of Madness. It had a kind of madcap energy about it, some silly gore, a very Carpenter sense of humour, and a demented Sam Neill, all aided by a Carpenter soundtrack. Since then I'd love to say it has been hit and miss for Mr Nicotine, but unfortunately it's mainly the latter, not taking into account his Masters of Horror efforts. The Ward isn't an awful horror movie, it just feels like an attempt to fit in with contemporary narrative trends but isn't as well written, executed or acted as many you'll see from other filmmakers.
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