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  Ward, The Asylum Anxiety
Year: 2010
Director: John Carpenter
Stars: Amber Heard, Mamie Gummer, Danielle Panabaker, Laura-Leigh, Lyndsy Fonseca, Jared Harris, D.R. Anderson, Mika Boorem, Susanna Burney, Sean Cook, R.J. Hampton, Jillian Kramer, Milos Milicevic, Sali Sayler, Sydney Sweeney
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 2 votes)
Review: The year is 1966 and there's something strange going on at the North Bend Psychiatric Hospital, as the latest inmate is about to discover. She is Kristen (Amber Heard), and she was found by a couple of cops out in the countryside, having set fire to an old house there and watching it burn until she was dragged into the patrol car and whisked away to the hospital. She doesn't believe she's crazy, and begins plotting on a way to escape, but the fact remains she cannot remember who she is or what she was doing to end up there...

The Ward was director John Carpenter's first film for cinemas in quite a while, although he had created work for television in the interim, but was not quite the grand return to reclaim his throne as one of the finest masters of fantasy and chills on film that his fans might have wanted. It was no disaster, but there had been better works from him over the years - this was not based on one of his own scripts - and this did little to arrest what was widely seen as one of the most disappointing downward spirals from a once reliable genre movie maker. But hold your horses, because this was still an improvement over some of his nineties output.

It's just that with its assembly resembling a Twilight Zone episode, it was practically begging you to solve the twist at the end way before you actually reached it. That said, setting this in the mid-sixties was a neat touch, for not only did it seem as if an introduction from Rod Serling would not at all be out of place, but it did play around with the themes of the psychological thrillers that came to the fore during that time. Obviously that popularity was ushered in by Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, but The Ward was more interested in the series of melodramas placed within the walls of asylums.

Indeed most of the story took place claustrophobically between the walls of North Bend, with Kristen, one of Heard's many genre roles in an apparent desire to become the female face of Hollywood horror movies for the twenty-first century, determined to get to the heart of the mystery going on there. Who is it that stalks the corridors after lights out, and more importantly why do they have the habit of sneaking up on Kristen and giving her the fright of her life? The other patients are not saying, and her doctor (Jared Harris) isn't about to reveal all either, but is that because he genuinely doesn't know or because he is hiding something?

In effect, this tends towards the repetitive, with Kristen making escape bids, getting captured, sedated, then waking up to rebel once again. After a while she works out that there was a patient here nobody likes to talk about, the enigmatic Alice (of Wonderland fame, perhaps), and she seems to be connected to the way that the other patients are being spirited away, believing they are being released but, as we see, suffering gory fates in psychiatry-based shocks. Could this be the fault of the ghost of Alice, or is there another explanation? To answer that doesn't take much brainpower, and there's a complacency about The Ward that sees it content to rehash older ideas in potentially interesting ways, potential it never quite fulfils. Add to that a last second surprise that will not surprise anyone, and it seems more geared towards the cheap scare than the more promising avenues it sets up then ignores. The mainly female cast suggested they would have done wonders with better material; as it was this was fine, under no illusions, but no more. Music by Mark Kilian.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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John Carpenter  (1948 - )

Skillful American writer-director of supense movies, often in the science fiction or horror genres. Comedy Dark Star and thriller Assault on Precinct 13 were low budget favourites, but mega-hit Halloween kick-started the slasher boom and Carpenter never looked back.

The Fog, Escape from New York, The Thing, the underrated Christine, Big Trouble in Little China, They Live and Prince of Darkness all gained cult standing, but his movies from the nineties onwards have been disappointing: Escape from L.A., Vampires and Ghosts of Mars all sound better than they really are, although The Ward was a fair attempt at a return, if not widely seen. Has a habit of putting his name in the title. In 2018, after branching off into music, he returned to produce another Halloween sequel. He should direct a western sometime.

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