John Carpenter Invites You To The Ward

John Carpenter Invites You To The Ward

Static Mass Rating: 4/5

Release date: January 21st 2011
Certificate (UK): 15
Running time: 88 minutes

Director: John Carpenter

Cast: Lyndsy Fonseca, Amber Heard, Danielle Panabaker, Jared Harris

My mother used to tell me stories about an unfortunate cousin who watched too much television. As a result, little Suzie ended up in an institution for the criminally insane after going for a walk with a machete. My mother had many stories like that to tell a curious boy like me, who grew up watching John Carpenter movies like Halloween (1978), Prince of Darkness (1987) and the one that scared me the most, The Thing (1982).

John Carpenter's The WardAfter a break from directing feature films, the master of horror returns for The Ward. It’s exactly the kind of movie my mother would have glared at me for watching and say “See, that’s exactly what’s gonna happen to you!”.

Set in 1966, it’s the story of a girl called Kristen (Amber Heard) who wakes up in a mental hospital after setting fire to an abandoned farmhouse, although she can’t remember why. Kristen shares the ward with four other girls, Iris (the artist), Emily (the tomboy), Sarah (the beauty) and Zoey (the baby). They all seem to have traumas of their own but Kristen is even more troubled by the fact that she’s the only one who wants to get out.

Eventually the girls tell her that no one gets out, but underneath their secrecy is a bigger mystery. Girls in the ward tend to disappear, and Kristen is convinced there is a dark presence stalking them. As they try to stay alive, Kristen must find out what happened to the girls who vanished, and face her own trauma which got her committed in the first place.

Shot in the late summer of 2009 on location at Eastern Washington State Mental Hospital for the Insane, The Ward is unmistakably Carpenter. The angles and the way he sets up a scene is what makes him a master of storytelling; the camera prowls the corridors, rooms and crawlspaces as we try to solve the mystery. At the same time we care about the girls. They’re all very likable, and the way we follow them as the story unfolds makes us want to see them get through it in one piece.

Carpenter talks about what he looks for when deciding if to direct a film:

“It’s mainly story I look for in a script. If I can see the movie as I read the script, as well as see how delineated the characters are and how sharp the writer is, then I’m interested. It’s always visual for me. I had a lot of training; went to film school, learned all the plumbing. I understand how to do the mechanics of it. I never let the other factors enter into anything I do. It’s all for me, for the movie in my head, that’s what I’m trying to make.”

John Carpenter's The Ward

Performances in the movie were generally good, they were subdued and though set in the 60’s, gave something of an 80’s feel which I enjoyed. London-born actor Jared Harris plays Dr. Stringer as a character you’re never sure you can trust, but someone you know is definitely hiding more than he’s telling.

There are moments when The Ward reminds me of Girl, Interrupted (1999), especially in the way the girls bond with each other. At other times its reminiscent of A Nightmare On Elm Street Part 3: The Dream Warriors (1987) which was set in the fictional psychiatric hospital, Westin Hills (with its main character also named Kristen) and of course, another Carpenter favourite, In The Mouth of Madness (1994) which also has a mental hospital setting.

Hopefully this won’t be a one-off for the director and we’ll see more from him again. The Ward is tense and funny, has a great story with a twist and more than one shock… an insanely brilliant comeback!

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