The Ward – Movie Review

Insanity you have to cooperate with.

Horror Meister John Carpenter springs his first film in ten years on us with the psycho thriller “The Ward.” Purported to be similar in subject and quality to “Shutter Island,” it is not even close. Even so, it is an entertaining Saturday afternoon romp into the world of cult horror.

Carpenter enthusiasts remember him for his outrageous “Vampires” and “Escape From New York” as well as a host of other tasteless and nonsensical monster slasher flicks that were (and still are) delicious fun for those who go along with the joke.

Good low budget special effects with a minimum of blood and gore. The lack of the spurting blood and popping eyeballs allows the filmmaker to put his time where it counts, and leave the best of the nastiness to the imagination of the audience.

Our imaginations paint the best pictures anyway.

Amber Heard does the heavy lifting as mentally challenged Kristen. She is bundled off to Riverview after burning down an abandoned farmhouse. Good clean fun from what we can see but the authorities see it differently.

She needs treatment and the doctors, nurses and burly orderlies at Riverview know how to dish it out. The more she screams her guilt the more the orderlies track her down and throw her back into her cell. The audience is as confused as the staff at Riverview over what is going on in this girl’s head. This is good. Unfortunately, the acting, directing and screenplay fail to make us care.

Bring on the ghouls and the Crusades inspired mental therapy, please.

As it turns out, there is only one person who can help her, and we are not very sure about him. That person is Dr. Stringer, played to the hilt by Jared Harris (TV’s “Mad Men” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”).

Harris had some extra craggy make-up applied for this film, so his skin looks like badly tanned leather dug up with the pyramids. Perfect for an isolated nut house doctor. Harris has talent as a zombie.

Emerging actors Mamie Gummer and Danielle Panabaker back up Heard as the most outspoken sickies in the ward. At least, so it seems. However, nothing is as it seems except for those wonderful surgical instruments in the mental care operating room and the ultra-high frequency shock therapy machine.

The operating room is a work of art. It is hard to believe that as recently as 1966 people still believed in that old-fashioned stainless steel knitting needle through the eye therapy.

Oh, oh, watch those spoilers.

The film has a great soundtrack. The music is composed by Mark Kilian (composer for “Tsotsi” in 2005) but the sound is mostly abstract new world percussion of a suitably creepy nature. Carpenter does not bludgeon the audience with loud bangs and screams that threaten to destroy the hearing.

Rather, the best screams and cries are far away, behind locked doors. The best rotting corpses coming back to life for revenge are the ones you never see. They are just around the corner, lying in wait for the unsuspecting young girls.

Likewise, the cinematography rolls out in a comfortably creepy manner, done by Yaron Orbach (“Unmistaken Child,” “The Empty Building”). The hand-held jerky cam is used sometimes but most of the shots are stable.

There is none of the gratuitous dropping of the camera or chaotic filming of bodies rolling on the floor. The film gets with the harsh shadows and extreme angles just enough to make the point.

The ending is predictable enough but most of those in the audience will not care one way or the other. The fun is in the journey in Carpenter’s films; the ending is frosting on the cake.

A celebration of the classic low budget horror film, “Ward” pulls a lot of tension out of the audience without a lot of outright blood and gore. The characters and scenes are creepy but most of the creepiness is in the minds of the characters and in the minds of the audience.

There is the occasional rotting corpse with those wonderful mummified fingers, but in a style that is tasteful considering the R rating.

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Directed by: John Carpenter
Written by: Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen
Starring: Amber Heard, Mamie Gummer and Danielle Panabaker 
Release Date: July 8, 2011
MPAA: Rated R for violence and disturbing images
Runtime: 88 minutes
Country: USA
Language: English
Color: Color