The Ward (2009)
John Carpenter’s The Ward, his first new film to screen in the UK for a decade, is an unmitigated disaster for all of its torturous 88 minutes of puerile, incompetent film-making – thankfully, that’s a sentence that I’d thought I’d have to write judging by some of the reviews I devoured following some festival screenings last year, but in the final analysis JC’s long awaited return to the silver screen isn’t that bad, it’s just not that good either. In terms of full disclosure I feel it apt to mention that John Carpenter is probably my one and only true guilty pleasure, cinematically speaking. I can forgive him the clichéd tricks, the badly constructed plots, the risible scares and obvious conclusions, as this is the man whom along with Spielberg and as much as I loathe to admit it Lucas (what can I say, I’m a product of the Star Wars generation although I can barely sit through them any more, and not just because of the prequels) were the primary harbingers of that burning love of the movies that has sizzled and crackled away inside of me over the years, you probably wouldn’t be reading this blog if it wasn’t for the likes of Dark Star, Escape From New York, The Thing, Big Trouble In Little China and well, I could go on.
In a not dissimilar fashion to Scorsese’s recent Shutter Island the film is a 1966 set tale of Kristen (an efficient Amber Heard), a young girl incarcerated in an insane asylum following an unexplained arson attack on an abandoned and isolated domicile. Also banged up in the creepy hospital are a quartet of similarly disturbed young women, all played by a clutch of twentysomething TV graduates according to a quick scour of IMDB, none of whom particularly stand out as talent with a potentially promising career. The wing is presided over by a stern nurse who is in turn overseen by the senior psychologist Dr. Stringer (Jared Harris, the English bloke from Mad Men), neither of whom can accept the women’s protestations that a lethal apparition is materializing at night to slay the unfortunate inmates, the patients caught in that frustrating Catch-22 scenario that they can’t possibly be believed as they are all evidently nuttier than a squirrels packed lunch. Kristen soon uncovers the fact that her predecessor was killed in her very own cell, a terrifying revelation that prompts her futile attempts to flee the institution amid the perennial thunderstorms and lightning flashes, but perhaps the deranged murders are merely a product of her own distressed mind?
I saw this at the Empire in Leicester Square, the haunt of Frightfest, and the comparisons to some of that festivals offering are apparent – The Ward could quite easily have been slotted into that gore drenched schedule as one of the ‘filler’ afternoon movies to keep the momentum ticking over prior to the more anticipated evening screenings. The Ward is not a very good film, but by the same token it’s not necessarily a bad one either, it’s the kind of movie that you might alight upon whilst channel surfing on a slow Thursday night, then watching it in full, thinking to yourself ‘hmph that was OK’, before retiring to bed and never thinking about it again. What most disappointed me however was just how unlike a ‘Carpenter’ film it felt, it’s quite obvious that he was a director for hire on this project – nothing wrong with that of course, a man’s gotta eat – but when he is handing over the reigns of essential elements such as the soundtrack to other creatives you know his heart simply isn’t into it. There are a couple of nice scares – one moment in particular had the popcorn hitting the ceiling, metaphorically speaking – but it is all very predictable and straightforward, even culminating in the perfectly obvious final jump that he ushered into lore way back with the likes of Halloween and Prince Of Darkness. I hope it’s a modest hit and at the very least recoups its meagre budget – as such I was quite happy to shell out the £15 fee that the West End cinemas charge – as maybe then we could potentially get one more gem out of him, perhaps his long-planned re-make of his beloved The Creature From The Black Lagoon, before he finally hangs up his riding crop and monocle for good. That would be mental.