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The Ward

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A still from 'The Ward'
Released on Friday, Jan 21 2011

> Interview: John Carpenter

Woohoo! Rejoice as legendary horror maestro John Carpenter returns to direct a movie for the first time in a decade. Boohoo! Weep as the final result is a meandering mess that isn't the return to form we craved - although Carpenter is not to blame. Largely stale in content, The Ward simply can't overcome its mundane plotting and writing despite some clinical camerawork and an appealing turn by leading actress Amber Heard.

The storyline follows traumatised young woman Kristen (Heard) after her incarceration in a female-only top security psychiatric ward. She's locked in with a curious bunch of deranged lasses, all of whom live in fear as an apparent ghost of a former inmate stalks the ward at night. A brutal backstory (very) slowly emerges and it appears that the facility's boss Dr Stringer (Jared Harris) is hiding something highly sinister indeed. But can the girls escape before being butchered by the largely unseen entity?

Perhaps the most frightening element of The Ward is the terrifying lack of incident and invention within the script. Much of the movie feels like outtakes from Girl, Interrupted, as we witness various sedations and catfights that are earnestly played out by the capable cast - but with negligible character depth. The story plods along, occasionally threatening to spark into life with a well-orchestrated jolt, but only clicks during a superior final reel that features an effective twist and ample corridor chase sequences.

While a disappointment, The Ward is by no means a complete dud (or even worse - a Ghosts Of Mars). Carpenter's command over a tight-knit and claustrophobic environment is still impressive, especially in conjunction with Mark Kilian's creepy score. Heard bares her acting credentials (if not her breasts for once, thus scuppering the DVD sales potential) as the movie's heroine, working hard to convey an air of mystery and deep-rooted hurt to the character. The supporting cast are also solid, although Jared Harris's performance is remarkably similar to his turn as Lane Pryce on the brilliant Mad Men, albeit minus the specs.

John Carpenter was pivotal in establishing and honing many of the modern horror movie conventions with his masterful work and innovative deployment of the Steadicam in classic shockfests such as Halloween, The Fog and The Thing. So it would be rather harsh to call his latest effort too generic, given his involvement in enhancing the genre. Instead, the problem simply lies with the material, not his directorial ability. The Ward just makes you wish he'd don a Michael Myers mask and scare the writers into nailing a more compelling script.


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