Thursday 21 July 2011

The Ward (2010)

THE WARD is an American horror film that was directed by John Carpenter and premiered in Canada in September 2010.  It stars Amber Heard, Jared Harris and a load of people I've never heard and don't expect to hear much of in the future.  The plot concerns a group of teenage girls in a psychiatric hospital who are threatened by a the ghost of a former patient.

I refuse to call this John Carpenter's The Ward, as he would have me do, partly because it's pompous and partly because the John Carpenter who used to make really exciting films seems to be long gone.  It's a huge disappointment to see the great man continuing to dilute his reputation with anonymous and derivative stuff like this.  Apart from the acting, which is atrocious, there's nothing really awful about this per se, it's more that it has been done so many times before and by directors with a tenth of Carpenter's talent.

Amber Heard as Kristen.  Judging by her sullen demeanour she subscribes to the Kristen Stewart Method

If you've been to the cinema at all in the last ten years you'll know the twist ending already so there's little else to keep you amused, apart from a couple of gruesome death scenes.  The framings are as elegant as you would expect from Carpenter in his customary 2.35:1 ratio and they are well realised by cinematographer Yaron Orbach but frankly it looks like any other movie asylum in that it's a damp and dark asylum which appears to be lit only by flashes of lightning.

From THE FOG:  a standard gas station...
... with a disconcerting detail.

The film opens with some static shots reminiscent of those in THE FOG [1980] In that film Carpenter sets up some standard images - main street in a small town, a petrol station, a convenience store - and then picks out the detail - a row of payphones ringing, a leaking petrol pump, bottles shaking in a refrigerator - and makes them seem threatening.  In THE WARD these static shots are present but Carpenter doesn't bother with the details, instead going for creepy in one shot rather than two.  It's lazy and what's more it doesn't work; these static images merely look like establishing shots.

THE WARD:  a room somewhere in a hospital...

...and a corridor somewhere in a hospital.  See what I mean?

Jared Harris tries hard as the chief shrink but this is really for JC completists only and will serve only to disappoint them.  It's difficult to pin down exactly when he lost it: for me his last completely successful film was THE THING and that was way back in 1982.  I regard that as the end of his golden run of terrific pictures.  He then entered a merely decent run which ran up to 1988 and ended with THEY LIVE.  Since then I reckon he has made one half of a good film, namely the first half of IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS which is genuinely up there with his finest work.

Jared Harris as Dr Stringer

The rest range from poor to mediocre but all are disappointing.  I know his 2005 episode of the Masters of Horror TV series (CIGARETTE BURNS) has its admirers but I wasn't so keen.  At his best Carpenter made modern movies with a classic Hollywood sensibility - particularly that of his hero Howard Hawks - bringing a real craftsman's approach to genres which are often marred by shabbiness and ineptitude. He hasn't directed a picture since THE WARD and at 66 time is running out for him to produce one last piece of glory.

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