John Carpenter was the purveyor of some classics films and, arguably, most famous for such genre pieces such as Halloween, Assault On Precinct 13, Escape From New York and The Thing. The Ward is his first feature since Ghosts Of Mars way back in 2001. He’s considered a master of many genres and isn’t afraid to take risks, with some of his films (Big Trouble In Little China) being critical failures but fan favourites.
With such a reputation, what can he do with The Ward? Surely, the man who brought us Halloween, The Fog and the creepy Masters Of Horror offering Cigarette Burns can’t misstep?
In 1966, Kristen (Amber Heard) sets a house on fire, is arrested by local police and placed in a hospital for the mentally insane, populated by predictably seedy orderlies, impatient nurses and disturbed female patients. She is introduced to Dr Gerald Stringer (Jared Harris) who, despite the attitude of the other professionals in the ward, is a nice guy and simply wants to discover why Kristen wanted to burn down a farmhouse.
Introduced to the other patients, Kristen discovers that there aren’t many people in this particular ward, and that they seem like a relatively content bunch, given their incarceration and mental states. They’re all in the ward for some form of experimental therapy that really isn’t explained but is sure to make them better. There are varying degrees of antagonism between each inmate and, as the film progresses, we discover that some of the inmates have been released… or have they?
The Ward is a tense psychological horror that is well made but generally dull. Elements of modern horror kick in towards the end, though it deftly avoids the recent forays into over-the-top gore that seems to have become a staple of the mainstream post-Saw. That said, the bits that are meant to make you jump are so tame that there’s a feeling of disappointment and predictability when they do happen.
The insane asylum angle has been exploited many times over the years and with varying degrees of success. It’s a concept recently seen in Shutter Island, where it was handled with far more skill and with far better acting; in The Ward, it’s difficult to tell whether Heard and Harris are bad actors or just bored. The Ward offers nothing new to the conceit with stereotypical, two-dimensional characters and formulaic storytelling. Even a late twist isn’t much of a surprise due to its familiarity. It also assumes that, by the end of the film, you still care about Kristen’s fate. That said, Kristen’s back-story and tale of fractured psyche would probably have made a more interesting film.
The HD transfer looks impressive, clean and sharp, with the picture quality that fans of the Blu-Ray format expect, but this renders everything far too shiny, especially given the setting. It has a Dolby True HD surround sound track, though there’s not really enough to show it off in this film, which is disappointing considering how disorienting the audio could have been in this setting. If anything, this just goes to compound the whole film as a wasted opportunity that falls down on so many levels.
Clearly gleaned from an electronic press kit, there’s an interview with John Carpenter where various questions are presented to him by an unseen individual (and displayed as caption cards), which cover the usual ground of why he did the film and where, what he brought to the proceedings and why. The whole interview package runs for three minutes.
Far lengthier are the disc’s cast interviews, gleaned from the same EPK. Running for 26 minutes, the key players are interviewed, but the questions are just as mind numbing as the Carpenter interview.
Finally, there are the cast interviews, and yes, they’re from the same press kit. There’s more background here, including a brief description of the production company and its purpose. It’s almost as if it was designed for investors to get behind the film. Beyond the first question, the production team do offer a meatier set of answers than the cast and Carpenter did. They’re clearly hyped about the film, working with Carpenter and the story.
With such a broad contribution to film, including television work, you’d think that there might be some celebration of Carpenter’s 30-year body of work. Sadly, there’s nothing else on the Blu-ray, marking a wasted opportunity, much like the film itself.
You can rent or buy The Ward at Blockbuster.co.uk.