Title: The Ward
Director: John Carpenter
Starring: Amber Heard, Danielle Panabaker (‘Friday the 13th ,’ ‘The Crazies ’), Jared Harris (TV’s ‘Mad Men,’ ‘Fringe’)
Trying to find a way back to where you came from is a recurring theme in the new Echo Lake Entertainment horror-thriller ‘The Ward.’ The film, which is horror legend John Carpenter’s first directorial effort in a decade, follows a troubled young woman who’s trying to remember what happened to her that lead to her being checked into a psychiatric hospital. ‘The Ward’ also disappointingly fails to live up to the director’s famous use of distinctive scare tactics, relatable characters and an interesting storyline.
‘The Ward’ follows Kirsten (played by Amber Heard) as she sets fire to an abandoned farmhouse in 1966. Bruised and confused on why she’s burning the house, she is then taken to the North Bend Psychiatric Hospital, where a patient named Tammy was killed the night before. Kirsten is given Tammy’s old room after being checked. However, no one, including the other patients in the ward, Sarah (played by Danielle Panabaker), Iris (portrayed by Lyndsy Fonseca), Emily (portrayed by Mamie Gummer ) and Zoey (played by Laura Leigh), will tell Kirsten what happened to Tammy.
The following morning, Kirsten meets Dr. Stringer (portrayed by Jared Harris), who tries to help her remember what happened during the fire. She insists she can’t recall what happened. Later that night, she tries to escape, but is caught by one of the orderlies. Kirsten tries to get the other girls to help her escape again, especially after a horribly disfigured ghost attacks her.
‘The Ward’ had the potential to be another fantastic directorial effort from Carpenter. The filmmaker is most remembered for helming and writing some of the best horror and thriller movies since the 1970s, including ‘Halloween (1978),’ ‘The Fog (1980)’ and ‘Halloween II (1981).’ But ‘The Ward,’ which is the first film Carpenter directed since 2001’s ‘Ghosts of Mars,’ disappointingly fails to introduce any of the elements that make his previous movies frightening, including an unpredictable, unique story; developed, interesting characters; and distinctive visual and emotional scares.
Screenwriters Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, who have only previously written the ill-received 2005 horror-thriller film ‘Long Distance,’ included over-used horror elements to explain why Kirsten burned down the farmhouse. The two should have more fully developed her backstory to explain what happened that motivated her to set the fire. While often times audiences want to see the film’s protagonist gain their freedom, the writers present nothing to convince viewers that Kirsten should be released from the North Bend Psychiatric Hospital.
Heard performed the best she could with the material she was given. However, the script should have included more interesting plot-points than Kirsten saying she isn’t sick and trying to break out of the hospital. Besides further explaining what really happened to Kirsten before she set the fire, Carpenter should have also included more interaction between Kirsten and the ghost. The ghost element seemed to be included as an afterthought, just to include scares in the plot.
The lack of plot and scares is a surprise, as Panabaker has said in interviews that Carpenter brought a lot of material and research of mental health treatment to the set. She has also said the actresses all did individual research for their roles before they began filming, so it’s questionable why more of the characters’ personalities and lives aren’t brought into the story.
Carpenter almost always brings complex, intriguing characters to his well-developed, emotional plot-lines. Therefore, the lack of originality in ‘The Ward’s story and the simple, trivial characters, makes his return to directing horror-thrillers a disappointment. ‘The Ward’ is unfortunately a film true Carpenter fans can skip.
Written by: Karen Benardello