James Reviews John Carpenter’s The Ward [Theatrical Review]

I’ve been contemplating this review for the last week since seeing the film. I’ve been attempting to piece together the words that can fully describe the way I feel about this film. When I was seeing it with a full theater and then reacting to it every day for roughly a week and a half now. And I’ve gone from happy to angry to sad to ultimately let down, as if I hadn’t seen a girl I was once in love with for over a decade, trying to rekindle the flame of passion and the whole date kind of ending in an awkward embrace. We both go in for a kiss but miss each other’s lips completely.

The Ward is set in the 1960’s at a psychiatric hospital, particularly in ‘the Ward’ section of the hospital, where the most dangerous of offenders are put to be treated. Kristen (Amber Heard) is the newest patient after being found in just her undergarment while burning down a house. With no explanation why she did it and Kristen’s mind blocking the actual reason out of her mind, she appears to be a lost cause but Dr. Stringer (a stellar Jared Harris) has hope that he can cure her. Along the way she meets the other girls in the ward; the nasty Emily (Mamie Gummer), the artistic Iris (Lyndsy Fonseca), man crazy Sarah (Danielle Panabaker) and childlike Zoey (Laura-Leigh) who help guide her through her own demons and a possible demonic being that is killing them one by one. Can Kristen come to grips with her past and stop the murders that are going on?

Will you care, though? It’s been a decade since Carpenter had made a feature film (in-between he had made 2 great episodes of Masters of Horror) and the surprising thing is it’s a competently made film but with none of the Carpenter-esque style and bravado we’ve grown to know and love over his career. The Ward feels like a world in a bubble, where beautiful crazy people are all put together in the same area where they can mingle with the One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest-lite staff while a killer is on the loose. Is it in her head? The staff of course doesn’t think so but Amber Heard doesn’t give the character much weight. She tries but like we see in most Hollywood fare, they tend to cast someone in the lead that wasn’t able to handle the material. It’s a comical performance, with a flashback that boggles the mind.

The biggest problem with the film is that at points the characters say something that sounds so ludicrous that it elicits uproarious laughter from the audience when it isn’t intended whatsoever. Being used to ‘so bad, it’s good’ films, this isn’t what Carpenter and company were going for in this film. It’s a supernatural thriller with a twist ending so bad, it had people laughing and questioning that this wasn’t a fake out ending to throw off the viewers. But no, the film ends with a thud that seems to have borrowed the exact ending to a recent thriller by another great director who has been consistently making good films for the last four decades. Not to ruin the twist, but it’s one of those endings that have been the norm in films since The Sixth Sense and The Usual Suspects but tend to take a film from being mediocre to the dumps.

Can I suggest anyone to go see this film? Yes I can. That might sound contradictory but it’s mainly because it’s a John Carpenter film and it’s one of those rites of passage in the world of horror to watch this master at work. This film isn’t the most offensive film to come out this year but it completely misses the mark. It’s Carpenter directing on cruise control, which is disappointing after convincing yourself that Ghosts of Mars couldn’t be the worst film he’s ever made. It’s a middle of the road horror film, which is a bigger offense than something that is outright awful. This has laughably bad moments, but the film has no soul. It’s a waste for Jared Harris, who seems to have gotten the memo for the kind of film he was cast in. The rest just seems procedural and we’ve seen better films dealing with this topic.

I wanted to love this film more than anything. When I heard Carpenter was finally coming back with a feature length film, I knew I had to be there. Not as offensive as Dario Argento’s films since the early 1990’s, but it saddens me even more because of the time span between films. Hopefully I don’t have to wait another decade for John Carpenter to come out with a new film. But I won’t be keeping my hopes up and maybe I won’t be let down like I was with this film. You’ve broken my heart, Carpenter. At least I can throw on my copy of The Thing to remember the good times we’ve shared.

5/10