Director: John Carpenter
It has occurred to this critic that the reason so many American horrors take place in the Pacific Northwest is because the states of Washington and Oregon receive very heavy rainfall and many thunderstorms. Throughout The Ward, lightning illuminates the corridors of its psychiatric hospital setting. If this isn’t big enough of a cliché for you, don’t worry; there’s about another 1,027 undemanding clichés to go.
Hopes were high for John Carpenter’s first film as director in a decade. After all, the set-up is pure Carpenter-esque schlock: Kristen (Amber Heard) is placed in a ward in a mental institution with four other girls in 1960s Oregon. They are then picked off one by one by a ghost. However, screenwriters Michael and Shawn Rasmussen don’t appear have watched a horror film or any film set in a psychiatric hospital in the last twenty years, and thus the clichés are born. There’s a kindly psychiatrist (Jared Harris). There are stock characterizations of psychiatric patients; we get nerdy (Lyndsy Fonesca), slutty (Danielle Pannabaker), nervy (Laura-Leigh) and ballsy (Mamie Gummer). There’s also hard-as-nails orderlies and a bitchy nurse (Nurse Lundt, who was presumably named in the hope the audiences might invent their own rhyming chants), plus a ghost with a rotting face, the rolling thunder and characters spouting lines like “That’s impossible” whenever something bizarre happens. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before!
The biggest disappointment about The Ward is that Carpenter seems to have forgotten what made the likes of Halloween and The Thing so memorable and so frightening. Here, he just throws cheap jump scares and clichés at the audience and hopes that something sticks. The 1960s setting is redundant (and makes the stunningly gorgeous likes of Fonesca and Pannabaker look somehow out of place). The cast are largely forgettable; Heard is bland, Harris belongs in better, and only Gummer makes any impact as the unhinged Emily. A few scares can’t but make you jump, but they are mostly predictable. Despite all this, there’s nothing to indicate that Carpenter is having fun with this material. There are unintentional laughs to be had here, thus placing The Ward comfortably in ‘so-bad-it’s-good’ territory. It’s better than Carpenter’s previous effort, the horrific Ghosts Of Mars, but that’s as good as it gets. The Ward is best viewed with a few beers and even fewer expectations.