THE WARD *** USA 2010 Dir: John Carpenter. 88 mins
Although occasionally a creeping tracking shot or an ominous bit of corridor camera-prowling reminds us who’s calling shots, while a potent soundtrack cue (not by the director in this case) pays homage to pulsing earlier scores, this workmanlike chiller sees Carpenter in director-for-hire mode.
The set up alludes to Sam Fuller’s SHOCK CORRIDOR (it unfolds in Oregon in 1966, soon after that film’s release) while echoing the multiple personalities and frontal lobotomies of SESSION 9 and the killing of a succession of psychiatric patients from the third ELM STREET movie. Found wandering in the woods in her nightie with no memory of where she came from, Amber Heard is admitted to an institution, joining a group of variously troubled young women under the care of experimental doctor Jared Harris. Heard encounters what appears to be a ghost wandering the corridors of the asylum, while her fellow inmates talk of an earlier patient who died in sinister circumstances.
Sporadic gore aside, this feels a little like a 1970’s American TV horror movie, though its unflashy, old-fashioned approach made it relatively refreshing in a genre period sometimes overwhelmed with torture, CG gore and smug humour. Carpenter makes concessions to early 21st century horror filmmaking with a vengeful J-Horror-style ghost and a post-Shyamalan twist accompanied by an obligatory climactic montage, though it ranks among the director’s least distinctive works. There is, however, something touching about how the veteran filmmaker, working with an almost all-girl cast for the first time, is respectfully discreet during the film’s communal shower sequence.
Review by Steven West