Legendary director, John Carpenter has not exactly been setting the world on fire lately...it's been a long time since I've seen a film of his that I liked from beginning to end, in fact I'd have to go back to 1988's They Live. So imagine my surprise when I found myself actually enjoying his latest foray into the genre that made him an icon.
Make no mistake, The Ward is no Dark Star or Halloween or even Christine; but damn if it's not a fine little spook fest full of atmosphere and some nifty scares.
Amber Heard (who, for whatever reason, put me in mind of Elizabeth Berkley in this film) plays a pretty young woman named Kristen who is found in the middle of nowhere staring at a farm house she set on fire earlier. Soon she is taken to a mental institution and locked up in a special ward full of...well, it's full of other pretty young women who don't seem all that dangerous or in need of being on a locked down section of a hospital, but what the heck.
Considering that this film is set in 1966, the state of mental health care shown is less than exemplary. Electroconvulsive therapy, buckets full of pills and straight jackets are the norm at this sanatorium - but nonetheless, the girls interrupted on the ward are still prone to put on some pop music and dance merrily around the day room when the mood strikes...
Before too long, the apparition (a sort of ghoulish gal) attacks and kills the other women on the ward, knocking off each one via therapeutic devices (a shock treatment machine, lobotomy hammers, etc). Eventually, Kristen gets her act together and fights back and ... and then the twist is revealed, and it's kind of cool, and very old school. Honestly The Ward has such a retro feel to it that I am tempted to call it "subtle" in its approach (OK, maybe that's a bit much, but considering the hyper kinetic technique that most thrillers are filmed today, the pace and style of The Ward is rather refreshing).
That's not to say that The Ward is perfect, it's not. In fact, it has a "shock" ending that almost made me want to prank call Mr. Carpenter and say, "Really John? That's the best ending you could come up with? Seriously ?" Oh and I also had a difficult time believing that someone could fall out of a third story window and survive with nothing more than a few scratches and a broken arm, but that's just me.
Final word; check yourself into The Ward and you will discover a decently crafted thriller that despite its flaws (and that dreadful ending) has a throwback feel to it and enough honest scares to make it well worth your time.