Mad Women : John Carpenter's THE WARD

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...
When not being terrorized and traumatized by the archaic mental health care, and the seemingly evil Nurse Lundt (Susanna Burney), Kristen begins to have visions of a ghostly patient up to no good.  More than that, she is also prone to flashbacks in which she is chained up in a basement being menaced by a hulking something or other.

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.


Jack Veasey said...

For some reason, when I heard the title of this film I'd thought Carpenter had made a movie about a girl being terrorized by her adoptive parents. The mental hospital setting appeals to me a lot more. Now that you've cleared that up for me, I'm glad there's a new John Carpenter film to check out -- and that it has more in common with his earlier films than his more recent efforts. Thanks. Pax!

Pax Romano said...

Jack, I'd love to get your take on it.

James Gracey said...

Nice write up, Pax. I totally agree with you about the retro/vintage feel of this - I too loved that aspect. Plus, it was just AWESOME being able to see a John Carpenter film in the cinema again. Though, when I did see it - I opted to see this over Black Swan as both films opened here on the same night - there were about seven or eight other people in the cinema with me – the majority of them were school boys who voiced their appreciation of Amber Heard. A lot. Still, I think The Ward is pretty solid - predictable ending aside. Welcome back John! :)

Pax Romano said...

James, thanks for the comment! I concur, "Welcome Back John!"

Anonymous said...

So, is it out on DVD or being released soon? because i would really like to check it out? Also, have you seen Cigarette Burns, the Masters of Horror episode he made? That one was good.