Thursday 3 November 2011

Review: The Ward

Year: 2010 (U.K release 2011)
Director: John Carpenter
Screenplay: Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen
Starring: Amber Heard, Lyndsy Fonseca, Danielle Panabaker

Synopsis is here

Note: Titles I mention in the last paragraph really give the game away with this feature. You've been warned.

In my opinion The Ward is a bland film film. Straight up. It is a rote and derivative piece that comes from a director who should know better but perhaps doesn't give a damn. It has one main objective; to scare, and it doesn't manage this in the slightest. As a horror film this is cardinal sin. Not only have we've seen this being done millions of times before, we've seen this being done miles better film-makers that haven't even been around the block as much as Carpenter. A young girl trapped in a mental hospital isn't a tough sell to a genre junkie but the distinct lack of tension and tone make this one to avoid.

To focus on what's good for a second, Carpenter's film looks slick enough. It's by no means an ugly feature (which strangely could be part of the problem) and is at times visually interesting in particular the use of light and steadycam shots. Also considering that found  footage is the biggest thing going right now, it's nice to see a film that tries to hit its marks with old school techniques. You get the feeling that The Ward has one eye in the past and wants to invoke the likes of Shock Corridor which isn't really a bad thing. Carpenter's film is distinctive as well because; despite casting some of the genre's most attractive stars, the film does not attempt to sexualise them in any way. The film wants us to look at the girls for who they are and not how they are represented in a Maxim cover.

The problem is that with John had done the bad thing and sexed up matters at least I'd have something to talk about. The cast play no-note characters and they play them pretty badly. We do not know why they are locked in the ward and the film doesn't do anything to try and make us care. As frustrating as it is to watch yet another hot girl get stabbed-athon, it's still something compared to here in which we see the right things done wrong. Amber Heard isn't the greatest actress in the world but she does have a certain amount of presence to her. The fact that the film plays down her sexuality and yet gives her nothing else to grasp onto irritates, as we could have really been on to something.

The film, despite it's setting is eerily lacking in tone. Something that Carpenter usually does pretty damn well. This is no music video hack using the horror film to grab that Hollywood ladder, Carpenter has always been great at layering the right atmosphere to films like this.However, the hospital locale is not used to it's full potential while the soundtrack could really do with the kind of minimalist score Carpenter is also famed for add this to the vapid characters and your in for a naff night of fright.

The whole thing is pretty generic. I only just watched it and already I'm forgetting what's happened in it. I say that, but the film reeks of other movies that do similar things better. Spoiler alerts abound when I say this but if you've seen Identity (2003) Shutter Island (2010) or Session 9 (2001) (amongst other titles) then The Ward only needs to be viewed if your a Carpenter completest.