DVD Review: The Ward


John Carpenter’s first cinematic feature film since 2001, The Ward, shows that he’s still a reasonably strong voice in the horror genre. Set in 1966, The Ward follows a young woman (Amber Heard) who becomes institutionalized at North Bend psychiatric hospital. It soon becomes clear that North Bend is no ordinary medical establishment, with its unorthodox practices, suspicious staff and a monstrous figure stalking the patients.

It’s easy to be sceptical about Carpenter’s recent output after the disappointments of Escape from LA and Ghost of Mars, however he has since redeemed himself with two excellent Masters of Horror episodes (Cigarette Burns and Pro-Life) and continues to do so with The Ward.  It’s by no means groundbreaking horror but it’s atmospheric and fun with some clever twists.

Post-titles, The Ward opens with a young woman (Kristen) running through the woods to a derelict farmhouse which she promptly sets on fire. She is soon arrested and taken to North Bend. This opening immediately creates a puzzle for the viewer which slowly unfolds through Shawn and Michael Rasmussen (Long Distance) tight script. We are promptly put in Kristen’s shoes and like her, have no idea why she has been institutionalized. Once we enter the institution, Carpenter really starts the fun and the end result feels like a cross between 2009’s Sorority Row and Shutter Island with a smidgen of Halloween II (the original of course!). Once again, more questions are posed with suspicious staff, missing patients and lots of electro shock treatment.

Jared Harris steals most scenes, oozing 1960s movie villain charm (slightly reminiscent of Donald Pleasence) as the head doctor, Dr. Stringer – in fact, The Ward made me think he’d make an excellent Dr. Loomis for any further Halloween sequels. However, Amber Heard does incredibly well, particularly convincing in the role of Kristen.

Carpenter’s direction is atmospheric and fairly tense, with a couple of good scares. His pacing remains fluid and after all this is territory he’s incredibly good at – a group of outsiders under siege from a sinister force. Some of the scares can be spotted fairly early and at certain points it’s easy to  forget this is a Carpenter film. The Ward also suffers from an incredibly generic and forgettable villain – far too much is shown too early which takes a lot of the horror and tension from the film – remember, it’s what you don’t see that is the most frightening.

The Ward is certainly a great improvement on Carpenter’s last cinematic fares but unfortunately lacks the originality and consistent suspense to be regarded alongside his best work. Still, it’s fun horror with some convincing performances and an interesting setting, showing occasional flairs of Carpenter’s genius.John Carpenter’s first cinematic feature film since 2001, The Ward, shows that he’s still a reasonably strong voice in the horror genre. Set in 1966, The Ward follows a young woman (Amber Heard) who becomes institutionalised at North Bend psychiatric hospital. It soon becomes clear that North Bend is no ordinary medical establishment, with its unorthodox practices, suspicious staff and a monstrous figure stalking the patients.

It’s easy to be sceptical about Carpenter’s recent output after the disappointments of Escape from LA and Ghost of Mars, however he has since redeemed himself with two excellent Masters of Horror episodes (Cigarette Burns and Pro-Life) and continues to do so with The Ward.  It’s by no means groundbreaking horror but it’s atmospheric and fun with some clever twists.

Post-titles, The Ward opens with a young woman (Kristen) running through the woods to a derelict farmhouse which she promptly sets on fire. She is soon arrested and taken to North Bend. This opening immediately creates a puzzle for the viewer which slowly unfolds through Shawn and Michael Rasmussen (Long Distance) tight script. We are promptly put in Kristen’s shoes and like her, have no idea why she has been institutionalized. Once we enter the institution, Carpenter really starts the fun and the end result feels like a cross between 2009’s Sorority Row and Shutter Island with a smidgen of Halloween II (the original of course!). Once again, more questions are posed with suspicious staff, missing patients and lots of electro shock treatment.

Jared Harris steals most scenes, oozing 1960s movie villain charm (slightly reminiscent of Donald Pleasence) as the head doctor, Dr. Stringer – in fact, The Ward made me think he’d make an excellent Dr. Loomis for any further Halloween sequels. However, Amber Heard does incredibly well, particularly convincing in the role of Kristen.

Carpenter’s direction is atmospheric and fairly tense, with a couple of good scares. His pacing remains fluid and after all this is territory he’s incredibly good at – a group of outsiders under siege from a sinister force. Some of the scares can be spotted fairly early and at certain points it’s easy to  forget this is a Carpenter film. The Ward also suffers from an incredibly generic and forgettable villain – far too much is shown too early which takes a lot of the horror and tension from the film – remember, it’s what you don’t see that is the most frightening.

The Ward is certainly a great improvement on Carpenter’s last cinematic fares but unfortunately lacks the originality and consistent suspense to be regarded alongside his best work. Still, it’s fun horror with some convincing performances and an interesting setting, showing occasional flairs of Carpenter’s genius.

Rating: 3/5

Reviewer: Andrew McArthur
Rated: 15 (UK)
Release Date: 17th October, 2011 (DVD & Blu Ray)
Director: John Carpenter
Cast: Amber Heard, Jared Harris and Daniel Panabaker