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The Ward (2010) – Carpenter countdown #11

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On to the five 'second tier' films. This one was his first feature length film since 2001's Ghosts. It got a short theatrical run in the UK – it ran for one week at my local – but looks to have gone straight to video in the US. This is based on a single viewing at the cinema in January (the DVD isn't out here yet – it's due in October!? – never mind cheap enough for me to want to buy) so it may change position on a re-viewing.

Concept: An American 'J-Horror' ghost story.

On a dark and stormy night, the camera moves though an old dark house psychiatric hospital. Footsteps approach Tammy's locked room, then something is inside, lifting her off the floor and breaking her neck. Titles. It's daytime in Oregon in 1966. Amber Heard is running through the forest in her undergarments. She sets a farmhouse on fire and stands there watching it burn until the police arrive and take her to The Ward. There, she's stripped, showered and locked in Tammy's old cell. Nurse Ratched Susanna Burney doesn't like the way she doesn't want her meds, while Dr Jared Harris is a bit more sympathetic. The other young women in the ward are (possibly bi/lesbian) 'Artist', 'Bitch', 'Child' – a girl who has regressed to being a young child again – and 'Kooky'. That night, after faking taking the meds, Amber is on her first escape attempt. She gets as far as the ward door before being caught. There's another storm, and the footsteps are back.

The next day, she tells the others that she saw one of them at night. Impossible, she's told. That evening, during yet another storm, they're dancing to Run Baby Run when the lights go out. 'Bad things happen in the dark'. The lights go back on, and it's time for a rummage through the unguarded nurses' station then into the showers. Everyone else has finished, but who's that figure in the steam? Before you can say 'Ghost!' it has Heard by the neck. She screams, and Nurse Burney is there while the others look on. No-one believes her. Jabbed with sedatives, she passes out before waking up tied to a table about to have a session of ECT from that nice Dr Harris. Come morning, and Artist thinks she's going to be released, but in her session with Dr Harris, she's hypnotised, falls asleep and is left in his office. Oh, where's she gone? Taken by Ghost to the ECT room and nastily killed, that's where. Looking through her book of sketches, Heard finds a portrait of someone called Alice – oh, that's what the letters of a broken bracelet spell – and Ghost Alice. There's an Iris who's not around now too, what happened? Dr Harris won't say, and later the other women aren't helpful either, beyond saying that Ghost Alice doesn't let people leave alive…

While Dr Harris rings someone for help, Heard and Kooky prepare another escape attempt. Come night, they're crawling through the air ducts, through another ward and into the morgue. Quick someone's coming! Hide! Unsurprisingly, Ghost Alice is around, Heard wakes up on the floor and is having flashbacks of being tied up in a room about to be raped / beaten. Next day, it's Bitch's turn to see Ghost Alice and before long, she's dead in another nasty way. Then there were three. Oh look, Child's soft toy has Alice's initials on. It turns out that the other women ganged up and killed Alice. Soon, it's then there were two. But what's going to happen when there's just one?

What’s good: Nice pre-title and title sequences (the latter is black and white images of the historical treatment of the insane on glass shattering in slow motion).

He's done strong women characters before, and all male character films, but this is his first largely female ensemble film. It turns out he can do those and the cast is all fine.

The cinematography is good, with a faded look to the colours, lots of dark corners, and fluid camera movements.

What’s not so good: The ending has been used before, but plot originality is not necessarily what we expect. If you told me this was based on a Japanese or Korean 'J-Horror' film (where they love ghosts putting young women in peril) I wouldn't be a bit surprised.

Music: By Mark Kilian. It's better than several of Carpenter's, while sounding not unlike him.

Miscellany: It'd take a look through IMDB, but I don't think any of the crew have worked with him before. Oh, the stunt coordinator is old favourite Jeff Imada.

Overall: It's been a looong time since I left a cinema having seen a new Carpenter not feeling disappointed. Being able to do that this time is what's got it rated this highly here. Time will tell if it really is one of the second tier for being that good or if it belongs below some of the ones in the previous section because my expectations were so low. Is this really his best film for, gasp, over twenty years? It's certainly not the most ambitious, but this is entirely competent J-Horror stuff managing both creeping dread and 'boo!'s well.

TL;DR Certainly better than anything of his in the 90s, it will be interesting to see if it works on second viewing

Film: 3.5/5
DVD: ?/5

It looks like the extras will just be interviews with cast and crew.

DVD and Blu-ray:

Written by Ian

June 16th, 2011 at 9:44 am

Posted in Cinema,Countdown

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