The Ward (2011)

Starring Amber Heard, Mamie Gummer, Danielle Panabaker, Laura-Leigh, Lyndsy Fonseca, Mika Boorem, Jared Harris, Dan Anderson, Susanna Burney, Sydney Sweeney, Sali Sayler, Mark Chamberlin, Jillian Kramer

Directed by John Carpenter

Expectations: High, I’m a big Carpenter fan.

John Carpenter is back after nine years away from feature films and old school horror fans are pumped. The master brought us such genre gems as Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, and Big Trouble in Little China. While The Ward isn’t quite up to those standards, it’s a marked improvement from the rather lackluster and tired Ghosts of Mars, Carpenter’s previous film. The Ward is a simple story of a girl in 1966 who inexplicably runs through the forest and burns down a farmhouse. She is quickly locked away in a mental institution for care. There she meets the requisite cast of psych ward girls and we’re off on a creepy, minimalist ride through a fun, if somewhat clichéd, film.

Does anyone really want or need another mental hospital film? I know I sure don’t, but I soldiered on despite my indifference and all the negative reviews to watch the new John Carpenter flick. My love is strong, and all that. I’m very glad that I did though, as I got a much more competent horror film than I had expected. Carpenter clearly still has what it takes to construct a quality film and I only hope that he can scrape together the funds necessary to make another film in the near future if he is want to do so. Speaking of funds, I’m sure The Ward was a pretty low-budget affair, but it doesn’t look it in the slightest. The Ward looks and feels like an old school horror movie, with quality camerawork & editing and awesome physical FX from genre-masters KNB. It may not win any awards for originality, but I was thoroughly entertained by it every step of the way. It even got me to jump a few times, which hasn’t happened in a long time.

It would be wrong not to mention the opening credit sequence. It is easily my favorite credits sequence in years, with slow motion shots of old mental institution drawings and faded family photos that slowly fracture, revealing their fragile glass construction, and it’s intoxicating to watch. The rest of the film isn’t quite good enough to live up to this awesome opening, but critics be damned, John Carpenter’s return to feature films is a good one. You can’t go in comparing it to every past success he had from thirty years ago and expect to have a good time, but taken on its own, it’s a fun, scary horror flick. I imagine people who place no stock in the Carpenter name will get more pleasure out of this one simply because they have no expectations associated with it. Or it could just be that the horror genre and the viewing population have strayed so far from the old school aesthetics on display in The Ward that they are no longer accepting of a film made in the classic Hollywood style, without a bullshit handheld camera in sight.