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Review: John Carpenter's The Ward (Tiff)

Sep. 15, 2010by: Chris Bumbray

PLOT: A young woman (Amber Heard) is institutionalized in a mental hospital haunted by the ghost of a former patient. Soon, her and her fellow inmates are being stalked and picked off one by one by this evil force, which the head psychiatrist (Jared Harris) seems intent on covering up.

REVIEW: I wish I could say THE WARD is a return to form for John Carpenter. I grew up on his films, and HALLOWEEN, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA, THE THING, and THEY LIVE are among my favourite flicks. Heck, I even have a soft spot for some of his outright flops, like MEMOIRS OF AN INVISIBLE MAN, and ESCAPE FROM L.A. While he hasn't made a good film in AT LEAST twelve years (VAMPIRES in '98, although most would list IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS as the last vintage Carpenter flick), I was psyched to hear Carpenter would once again be stepping behind the camera. Still, I had reservations about the tired sounding storyline (pretty girls being picked off one-by-one) which has been done to death (heck, he all but invented the genre!).

Sadly, this IS NOT vintage Carpenter, and may in fact be a worse movie than GHOST OF MARS. I honestly can't figure out why Carpenter chose to make such a cheesy and uninspired film as his comeback. Maybe the problem is that Carpenter's always been at his best when directing his own scripts, but here he's saddled with a script that screams direct-to-video. Perhaps he was trying to make something accessible beyond his rabid fan base, with him using a hot young cast of popular actresses, including Danielle Panabaker, Lyndsy Fonseca, and future star Amber Heard.

Besides Heard, everyone fares pretty miserably, as they're given dialogue that seems like it belongs in a sixties Hershel Gordon Lewis film. The characters are horrible, with all the stereotypes being represented, including the bad girl, the sexy girl, the smart girl, the childlike one, etc. Of course, each of the girls is also exceptionally good looking, and at times this felt like a seventies “women in prison” movie with all the good stuff taken out.

They also set the film in 1966, which I imagine is just an excuse to dress up the pretty cast in sexy sixties clothing (Panabaker's Diana Rigg/AVENGERS ensemble is a little much for a mental hospital me thinks). Only Heard manages to make the most of her role, as she's so charismatic, she even almost succeeds in making schlock like this palatable- although even she can't save the moronic “twist” ending, that screams SHAMALAYAN! Jared Harris also manages to walk away with his dignity intact, although one can't help but feel Harris is wasted, when he could have easily been the lead in a grittier, cooler Carpenter film. This is totally a by-the-numbers horror flick, and there's nothing about it (other than the font used in the credits) that makes it seem like a Carpenter yarn. Heck, he didn't even compose the musical score!

Perhaps the most misguided thing about the film is that, for some ungodly reason, Carpenter seems to be aiming for a PG-13. I actually just finished writing a review for another horror flick, VANISHING ON 7TH STREET, that also seems to be aiming for a PG-13. In that case, it works beautifully. Here, you really need the exploitation elements, as what else is an exploitation film without the exploitation? Evidently not much, and THE WARD was an absolutely miserable film to sit through.

However, I still refuse to write off Carpenter. Sure, he strikes out with THE WARD, but I'm not convinced he's done yet as a director. I think it's just the horror genre that seems to escape him a little these days, as the current trends don't really allow for the type of flicks he made in the eighties. I'd like to see him make a return to hardcore action, like ESCAPE FROM NY, or THEY LIVE. With the right bad ass leading man (preferably Kurt Russell), I'm sure he could pull off a great, fun, action flick. THE WARD just feels like a waste of the man's time, and a waste of ours as well.

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10:38PM on 05/31/2011
Almost a year after this review and I just saw the movie. It's not as bad as this review states, but it screams mediocrity...and the twist doesn't scream Shamalayan...it screams IDENTITY which was a much better film.
Almost a year after this review and I just saw the movie. It's not as bad as this review states, but it screams mediocrity...and the twist doesn't scream Shamalayan...it screams IDENTITY which was a much better film.
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8:12AM on 09/16/2010

In case it wasn't clear in my earlier post...

I do respect your opinion Chris and I do appreciate your points, but Im STILL HOPING I enjoy it is all :)
I do respect your opinion Chris and I do appreciate your points, but Im STILL HOPING I enjoy it is all :)
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4:52AM on 09/16/2010
Good review, each to their own though. I am still looking forward to it, and well it does have Amber Heard.
Good review, each to their own though. I am still looking forward to it, and well it does have Amber Heard.
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6:04PM on 09/15/2010

Is this movie that bad ?

I still can`t wait to see this movie. It seems "The Ward" is even worse than "Escape from L.A." or "Ghosts of Mars". Since this movie doesn`t have an rating yet...By reading this review, it sounds like an PG-13 movie. Since i am Carpenter fan, good or bad movies, i still want to see this. I was hoping this movie would be out this fall but didn`t happen. I thought Lions Gate Films was the disturbutor of the movie.
I still can`t wait to see this movie. It seems "The Ward" is even worse than "Escape from L.A." or "Ghosts of Mars". Since this movie doesn`t have an rating yet...By reading this review, it sounds like an PG-13 movie. Since i am Carpenter fan, good or bad movies, i still want to see this. I was hoping this movie would be out this fall but didn`t happen. I thought Lions Gate Films was the disturbutor of the movie.
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5:16PM on 09/15/2010
I'm one of the Carpenter Schlock fans, I love his cheesy flicks, both Escape from LA and Ghosts of Mars are huge guilty pleasures of mine, so I'm hoping this will come across like either of those, if its trying to be too serious with that kind of lowB junk behind it then it wont gel right, so I'll just have to wait and see
I'm one of the Carpenter Schlock fans, I love his cheesy flicks, both Escape from LA and Ghosts of Mars are huge guilty pleasures of mine, so I'm hoping this will come across like either of those, if its trying to be too serious with that kind of lowB junk behind it then it wont gel right, so I'll just have to wait and see
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3:04PM on 09/15/2010
I'm still holding out hope for this film, because I love Carpenter and Heard is a favorite actress of mine. So I will still hope for the best, but this review has lowered my expectations a bit.
I'm still holding out hope for this film, because I love Carpenter and Heard is a favorite actress of mine. So I will still hope for the best, but this review has lowered my expectations a bit.
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2:22PM on 09/15/2010
From what I'm hearing it just seems Carpenter was mixed up with some elements that just didn't vibe well with him. I really hope Craven doesn't follow the same route.
From what I'm hearing it just seems Carpenter was mixed up with some elements that just didn't vibe well with him. I really hope Craven doesn't follow the same route.
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1:21PM on 09/15/2010
As opposed to Chris, I dug Ghosts of Mars hence still have hope for this one.
As opposed to Chris, I dug Ghosts of Mars hence still have hope for this one.
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1:25PM on 09/15/2010
I actually kinda liked GHOST OF MARS (even bought the DVD) but that at least felt like a Carpenter film. I dunno dude, I have a feeling you might not be into it. Hopefully I'm wrong though, I know what a big fan of his you are. Just really didn't work for me.
I actually kinda liked GHOST OF MARS (even bought the DVD) but that at least felt like a Carpenter film. I dunno dude, I have a feeling you might not be into it. Hopefully I'm wrong though, I know what a big fan of his you are. Just really didn't work for me.
+2
12:18PM on 09/15/2010
3/10? Oh boy. Looks like Johnny just wanted to be around a bunch of young hot ass, nothing more.
3/10? Oh boy. Looks like Johnny just wanted to be around a bunch of young hot ass, nothing more.
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