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Saturday, November 19, 2011

Movie Review: THE WARD


"If I were you, I'd watch out, new girl."
-- Sarah

The Ward is a 2011 horror film directed by John Carpenter that serves as his first directorial effort in nearly a decade. The story follows a young girl named Kristen (Amber Heard) who is placed in a psychiatric hospital after burning down a farmhouse; however, she has no recollection of any events prior to her arrival at the hospital. As she tries to settle into her new environment, she meets the other girls in her ward: Iris (Lyndsy Fonseca), Sarah (Danielle Panabaker), Emily (Mamie Gummer) and Zoey (Laura-Leigh). She also meets Dr. Stringer (Jared Harris), who the girls say is trying an experimental method of therapy in their treatment. Although everything seems normal in the hospital, things start to go awry when Kristen starts to see an apparition haunting the halls. Fearful for her life and for the lives of the other girls, she attempts to break away from the ward.

While I'm not terribly well-versed on Carpenters directorial resumé, I have seen a handful of his films, and I have to say that he's been a tad hit-and-miss for me. I loved Halloween (1978), but I hated Assault on Precinct 13 (1976). I raved about 1982's The Thing, but I merely liked 1988's They Live. Because he's been so back-and-forth for me personally, I wasn't quite sure what to expect from The Ward. I thought it had the potential to be a great return to the horror genre for him, but sadly, the film just didn't really deliver.

I could probably break down the screenplay quite a bit and give you reasons as to why it isn't that good, but it would be too harsh to trash it all completely. There's a good story hidden somewhere inside this film, and were it not so painfully dull, I might have been captivated by the plot's twists and turns. To be honest, it all just felt a tad too predictable. I saw Carpenter's every move from a mile away, and I just thought he fell into horror convention a bit too much. For a man who broke ground in the horror genre so many years ago, it's sad to see him fall into conformity this way.

It's a shame he doesn't really get much help from his cast, either. While it's not the worst bit of acting you'll see, there's not really much good to say about our actors here. Amber Heard plays her character a tad bit over-the-top, and she turns into a whiny, broken record pretty quickly. We do get some okay performances from the likes of Harris and the other girls, but seeing as Heard is the star of the show, we have to suffer through her piece for the film's entirety. She may not bring down the film on her own, but she could have done a lot more to lift it from its current state.

Despite everything I've just said, the real issue with The Ward is that it just isn't scary. Whereas Carpenter has made a career on leaving his audiences in suspense, he instead chose the foray of cheap thrills for this particular film. Those of you who have been reading me for a while will know that I don't consider "cheap thrills" to be true horror. Sure, you might jump out of your seat, but you're not going to remember the scares a day or two later. Suspense will keep you awake at night, but cheap thrills will pass. Because of this, I just couldn't find the film all that terrifying, and considering the "jump" moments couldn't even cause a stir, I'd have to say that this was a rather failed experiment in the horror genre.

At the end of the day, The Ward is an interesting effort from a horror icon, but sadly, it fails on nearly every level. It breaks the first rule of the horror genre by not being scary in the slightest, and the rest of the issues with the film fall into place after that. It's not the worst film I've ever seen, but I can't in my right mind begin to recommend you watch it.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: D-
1.5 Thumbs Down

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