THE BLACK SHEEP is an ongoing column featuring different takes on films that either the writer HATED, but that the majority of film fans LOVED, or that the writer LOVED, but that most others LOATH. We're hoping this column will promote constructive and geek fueled discussion. Dig in!
The Ward (2010)
Directed by John Carpenter
“There’s plenty of entertainment here if you can let yourself go and just enjoy the thing.”
John Carpenter, a name that once meant something. It was an institution. Maybe not to the level of a Clive Barker or Wes Craven or Stephen King, but that’s because the man didn’t slap his name on everything that he wrote down on a beer coaster. Generally, if his name was on it, he directed it, he provided the music, he gave it the Carpenter touch. Of course, his heyday was around twenty years ago, and since then, his work has been about as sporadic as a meth head with nasty twitch. Sure, I adore nearly everything he’s done, but I also understand it isn’t his best. Any regular reader of this column surely knows I love the guy’s work. I’ve examined Halloween III (he produced), Village of the Damned, and Ghost of Mars. And now…The Ward!
It’s been a long time since he made a movie. I have to admit I was pumped to see The Ward in theaters. I kept looking for release dates online, only to discover there were none (at least wide release). Then I had to wait for DVD and during that wait, I started to read the reviews. Lackluster. A lazy entry. So by the time I finally did get to see it, my expectations were low. I wanted to like it, I wanted classic Carpenter, but I knew better.
During the opening credits I became doubtful almost immediately as Carpenter, who’s been accused of being lazy of late, did not provide the score. His scores have always set a perfect tone. However, Mark Kilian did not stray too far, essentially making a Carpenter score but with more depth with chanting voices and such. Then it didn’t take long to realize that things were gonna bug me. I don’t understand why it was set in the 1960s when NONE of the characters, especially lead Amber Heard, looks like they’re from that period. I also couldn’t get over cinematographer Yaron Orbach’s look. He never captured how a Carpenter movie is supposed to look. It never had that feel.
During the first 20 minutes or so, I still carried my high expectations. It starts about right during a dark and stormy night where some hot chick named Tammy gets her neck snapped by some sorta ghost. But then I began to pick the film apart. Why are there so few people in this mental ward? Why are all the patients pretty? Why does every evil nurse look the same? However, once the ghost starting popping up and the story started to unfold, I decided, what the hell, this isn’t the best movie ever, but it’s an effective, small movie that does exactly what its supposed to do. It provides some good jumps. It provides a good story. It’s not overly gory, but Carpenter flicks seldom are. (My favorite scene is when the ghost fries one of the young ladies. It’s silly watching a ghost use controls on a complicated machine, but eh, it works.) They allow the mood and the story to dictate the fear.
I view The Ward as a project for Carpenter to get his feet wet on. Like a good boxer, they need a tune up bout. Sure, maybe his projects with Masters of Horror should’ve been that, but they were more like an exercise to regain his interest. The Ward is a departure from his standard Rio Bravo remake, which so many of his movies are. Instead, he gave us a psychological movie with hot chicks and ghosts, something that’s hard to mess up. Maybe I’ve seen too many of the “After Dark” titles of late (which are about as good as a chatty prostitute), but there’s plenty of entertainment here if you can let yourself go and just enjoy the thing. Don’t hold it up to Carpenter’s previous efforts, because it won’t, well, hold, but if instead watch it as a low-budget horror movie (cost around $10 million, which actually surprised me) that does what it is supposed to do.