TIFF Movie Review: The Ward (2010)

It seems while Rob Zombie was busy with his horrible remake of John Carpenter’s Halloween and Universal is now busy making a prequel to his 1981 classic The Thing, he’s been at home figuring out how he too can get in on the generic horror genre. Taking that into consideration he’s succeeded wildly with The Ward, a subpar psych ward thriller that mines the most cliche of horror film plotlines with laughable performances by the entire cast of twenty-something actresses.

The Ward takes place in North Bend, Oregon in 1966 and centers on Kristen (played to an amateurish thud by Amber Heard) who’s just been picked up for torching a local barn. Admitted to North Bend Psychiatric she begins her treatment under the care of Dr. Stringer played by Jared Harris whom you may remember as the tattooed tug boat captain in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

Unfortunately for Kristen, she is almost immediately haunted by the ghost of a former patient. However, when a psych ward patient says there’s a ghost in the hall it isn’t necessarily taken seriously and can result in a bit of electroshock therapy. This is 1966 after all. As fellow patients begin to get knocked off one-by-one Kristen grows increasingly agitated and begins looking for a way out.

Frequent horror film watchers will probably put this film together in a matter of minutes, but I’ll admit that while I was sniffing around the edges by the time it got to the end I didn’t have it entirely figured out. This would have probably helped had Carpenter not used every jump scare imaginable along the way including a series of mirror scares and “is there anyone on the other side of the window?” and “who’s behind the door?” scares. This film is so tired and redundant it is shocking.

Even worse, the performances from names some of you are likely familiar with are dreadful. Amber Heard looks like a first year acting student, Danielle Panabaker is no better than she was in 2009’s awful Friday the 13th remake and Meryl Streep’s daughter, Mamie Gummer, has a long way to go before she is filling her mother’s shoes. Lyndsy Fonseca as Iris isn’t too bad, but her character wears on you throughout the movie to the point you are begging for her to be next on the death list. And that’s just the start of it, I won’t get into how overcooked Susanna Burney and Sean Cook are as the hospital nurse and orderly respectively.

Production values are minimal, though Carpenter made sure to insert several menacing establishing shots of the outside of the hospital and lightning is used religiously. It’s as if he just gave up on innovation and decided what had been done in the past was good enough for him and he was just going to do it over and over again.

The real kicker is the idea behind the film, scripted by the untested talents of Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, is actually not that bad once you get passed the cliched twist. Had the execution been better I think this may have been a decent thriller. When looked at from a medical standpoint and examining what the script was aiming to do it’s not too bad, but either the script, the direction or both failed a film that simply needed a little more time spent on story development and a new set of storyboards.

This film brings nothing new to the genre and mines everything someone of Carpenter’s talents shouldn’t be relying on. It’s a disappointment and a mystery as to why he even decided this would be his first film in nine years.


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