John Carpenter’s The Ward

It’s safe to say that JOHN CARPENTER is my favorite director of all time. I may have been more fascinated by CRONENBERG for a wee while, but that was only during my artsy phase. CARPENTER has made the majority of my favorite films and I have returned to and watched his movies over again a zillion times. So really, I came to this conclusion using simple math. I admit I was a bit cautious approaching his latest, THE WARD but considering I count myself among the few who appreciated GHOSTS OF MARS, I figured my chances of being outraged enough to throw a trash can through a pizza shop window were slim. I wasn’t expecting a tour de force, just a competent work with a few adornments that high-fived his previous films. So what if he lost some zing and vitality? I wasn’t feeling too hot myself. In other words, my expectations were not too high or too low. I’ve already gotten so much from this filmmaker that demanding much more felt like being an ungracious turd.

No need for plot details, it’s basically GIRL INTERRUPTED…BY A GHOST! Most of the film runs smooth as silk and desperation free. It looks crispy clean in general and J.C.’s lovely signature is present and clearly legible. The atmosphere is not especially strong for ghostly subject matter but select moments hit the right uncanny nerve. The man has an eye and that eye still impresses; there’s a bounty of wonderful shots all filled with his exquisite affection for lines and angles. I will assume that the film would have benefited some from a score by CARPENTER himself but a CARPENTER-approved score will have to suffice. (Did I hear a nod toward SUSPIRIA?)

I also really dig the cast, AMBER HEARD is all types of engaging, both beautiful and convincingly staunch. MAMIE GUMMER, as a quirky inmate, reminds me of a young MERYL STREEP and that I’m blaming on her mom, MERYL STREEP. JARED HARRIS is outstanding as a Loomis-y shrink leaning on nuts himself. I’d love to see him become a recurring CARPENTER player as PLEASENCE and ATKINS have done before him. I think this is a fantastic movie up to a point…

The problem is the script and more precisely, the end of the script. The film follows familiar paths and that is fine and dandy but then all the sudden it tramps things up big time with a highly irritating, borderline excruciating twist. I had such a good time with the HALLOWEEN II-ish setting, the FOG-zombie ghost, THE THING-esque group dynamics and CARPENTER’s overall swoopy snug as a straightjacket style that I thought I could forgive the insulting “reveal” but then something worse happened, something that I’m still trying to reconcile.

The film ends with (and you can’t spoil the already rotten) a goddamn medicine cabinet scare! Have you ever gone on a perfect date and then at the end of the evening the so and so bends to kiss you and their breath smells like roadkill? It’s not a good way to leave things. I can’t be too hard on a movie that is mostly good. I suppose if it was released twenty years ago, it would have curled my toes and buttered my English muffin. The good news is that CARPENTER still has the serious chops and honestly I’ll take this movie before many a recent offering from some of his peers. Now, somebody please get this poor guy a script with an ending that doesn’t make me sneeze. I’m allergic to mold!

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Taylor (@joshacid37)
10 years ago

I may be mis-remembering, but I think someone has spoiled the twist in The Ward for me already. I’m pleased to hear that it’s worth watching for a Carpenter fan, in spite of that.

Am I the only person that really dug Vampires? I saw it in the theater on Halloween two years in a row (when it came out in ’98, then I happened to be living in England when it came out there in ’99). I feel like one of the only real In The Mouth of Madness fans too.

Maybe it’s better that I don’t remember much about the single-viewings I’ve done of Ghosts of Mars and Village of the Damned…

Chris (@chris)
10 years ago

I’m a HUGE Carpenter fan (he’s the one who got me interested in movies after all), but tend to like (what’s considered) his stinkers. The only films by him I can’t stand are Memoirs of an Invisible Man, and Elvis. I know this will be sacrilage, but Vampires is actually my favorite Carpenter flick, and In The Mouth of Madness is my second favorite, so you’re not alone, Taylor. And to prove I have even less taste, Escape from LA is my third favorite. So, who do I turn my “I think I’ve got good taste in film” badge into? 🙂

I can’t wait to see The Ward, even if it is considered somewhat crummy. Heck, I’ll take ANY Carpenter flick, good or bad… I just wish the man would get off his pot smokin’, video game playin’ ass long enough to make one!

cmcmcmcm (@cmcmcmcm)
10 years ago

I have a major weakness for psych ward movies – and John Carpenter – so I’ll def give this one a whirl.

Amanda By Night
Amanda By Night (@amanda-by-night)
10 years ago

I actually have a copy of The Ward and have been wanting to watch it. I was going to skip this review, but being the Kindertrauma-addict I am, I gave it a go and am pleased it was liked!

I am also a fan of Ghosts of Mars and Vampires. I think I liked Ghosts better, but overall, I’ve enjoyed pretty much everything I’ve seen by Mr. Carpenter…

I have to say, I don’t think I like Amber Heard, but I’m trying to reserve that because it really comes from seeing her in only one film and that was the godawful Stepfather remake. Not her fault… I have to keep reminding myself of that… and perhaps this film will change my mind!

Amanda By Night
Amanda By Night (@amanda-by-night)
10 years ago

btw, just because…

I had always thought it would have been interesting if John Carpenter had remade Suspiria and Dario Argento remade Halloween… I got this idea when I originally heard Halloween was being redone. That would have been some kind of awesome experiment, I think!

Eshbaal (@eshbaal)
10 years ago

I’ve had this one lying around or a while. I should raelly get around to watching it, I love me some JC. Am I the only one who has Prince o Darkness as one of his avorites?

Also, Unk, I CANNOT blame you for hatin the Unborn! That awful flick still haunts me in all the wrong ways – you’d thinking putting the work into bashing the everliving hell out of it in a half-our long video would get it out of my head.

Jeff Allard
Jeff Allard (@fb1328455442)
10 years ago

Unk, I’ve got to say I’m a big fan of medicine cabinet scares! I couldn’t help but chuckle at how well the one here sent me jumping off my couch cushion!

Eshbaal (@eshbaal)
10 years ago

I just love Prince of Darkness for its sheer amount of mindfuckery – plus the “Amazing Grace” scene is creepy as all hell.
Bah, I’m just gonna have to watch The Ward next time I have a moment for movie watching… OR I could bring it to my friends’ place next weekend – the same guy who I showed all JC’s other movies to and scared the piss out of him with them! Let’s see how this holds up.

Pinchy (@pinchy)
10 years ago

I have to say that I breathed a sigh of relief reading your review. The trailer left me surprisingly nonplussed, and I was girding myself to be massively disappointed by The Ward. But honestly, if the medicine cabinet scare is as bad as it gets, I think I can get past it. And when you stop to think about it, JC has always relied on cheap scares more than any of us are probably comfortable admitting to.
Full disclosure: I also count myself among the few Ghosts of Mars admirers, so perhaps I cut Carpenter more slack than he deserves….

knobgobbler (@knobgobbler)
10 years ago

I’m not one of the Carpenter faithful… I prefer Rob Zombie’s version of Halloween (1 and 2). His stuff is just about always entertaining and interesting… but also confused or lacking focus.
The Ward doesn’t interest me… from the previews it looks bland as hell… “In a place… full of mentally disturbed beauty queens…”

I went and read the spoiler for it though, and it is kind of a cop-out…
I’m sure I’ll watch it someday… or not.

Pax Romano
Pax Romano (@pax-romano)
10 years ago

Saw it last night, and for the most part found it enjoyable – but you are so right about that ending…in fact, having read your review before seeing the film, I was prepared. I hope some producer insisted that the last minute scare be added, that way I can forgive John.