Hey hey dear stargazers! I apologize for being MIA last week. Labor Day took me out of town and my best intentions fizzled into nothingness before I knew it. I’m here now and that’s what counts, right? Anyways, speaking of being MIA, I uncovered this little gem from Netflix a few weeks back. It is the last film directed by Master of Horror John Carpenter. Filmed in 2010, The Ward was his first film since 2001’s Ghosts of Mars and, according to IMDb, it’s the last story to put him behind the camera.
A frantic Kristen (Amber Heard) is racing through the woods when she comes to an abandoned farmhouse. The cops arrive to haul her off as she watches the building burn. She’s taken to North Bend Psychiatric Hospital, where she is placed in the room of recently vacated Tammy. Kristen shares the floor with several other girls; Iris (Lyndsy Fonseca), Sarah (Danielle Panabaker), Emily (Mamie Gummer), and Zoey (Laura-Leigh). Dr. Stringer (Jared Harris) tries to coax her past terrors from Kristen, but she’s more concerned with a creepy disfigured woman who keeps appearing out of the corner of her eye. Eventually, the girls tell her of Alice Hudson (Mika Boorem), a vile patient who tortured them until one night they silenced. Alice has returned as a vengeful spirit stalking the girls, and who is responsible for the recent disappearance of Tammy (Sali Sayler). Now Alice is stalking Kristen though she had nothing to do with her demise. The more Kristen tries to get help from the girls to escape, the more resolute Alice is she remain at North Bend.
Given the last few films from John Carpenter, I was wary of The Ward when I first came across it. I’d been less than impressed with anything of his post-80’s. Ultimately I relented. I was curious to see what type of story drew such an interesting cast of talent to the project. The story, penned by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, focuses on the crazed Kristen. She’s unwavering in her belief she doesn’t belong in any institution let alone this one and is quick to palm pills and jam locks to gain her freedom. Outsmarting the guards isn’t the issue, it’s finding a way around the ever-present, fiendish Alice.
Alice is a twisted, monstrous woman whose skin crawls and generally pops up whenever Kristen, or the audience needs a good scare. Carpenter is still quite adept at crafting quality jump scares. It’s an old trick, but if you know how to set the right mood, it’ll get you every time. One confusing issue with Alice is that sometimes she seemingly materializes before the girls, other times she runs into view which seems an odd thing to do for a vengeful spirit. It is somewhat explained by the story’s end, but it can be baffling to witness her nature shift from intangible to tangible.
The other girls largely take a back seat in Kristen’s story, although Emily and Zoey become the most helpful of the group. Iris is on the outs, according to her therapy sessions with Dr. Stringer and Sarah seems more concerned with dating the guard once released to the real world than anything else.
The big issue with The Ward is that it is retreading a well-worn story convention. Without going into too many details, it’s one horror fans have no doubt seen on at least three occasions in the past ten years. There’s nothing wrong with tapping a classic concept and Carpenter’s version is pitch perfect in its telling. A well-told, unquestionable tale is good enough for my enjoyment, however, it may not be enough for those seeking something surprising.