It’s been a long time since John Carpenter has sat in the directors chair, with only two episodes of Masters Of Horror under his belt since 2001’s ‘Ghosts Of Mars’. But he’s back. Is it a triumphant return? Has he made something that will make up for what most folks consider to be a rather disappointing period in his filmography. The answer is yes on both counts.
‘The Ward’ tells the story of Kristen (Amber Heard), a young woman who has been institutionalised in a mental hospital, specifically a sectioned off ward in the hospital. She doesn’t know why she’s there and none of the staff will tell her. But she’s not alone, in there with her are four other girls, all a little different from each other; you’ve got the bitch, the weirdo, the loner and the one that seems perfectly normal. Of course there is someone, or something, else in there with them, a ghostly presence which has just recently bumped off the last occupant of the ward. When her new friends start and become victims too, Kristen is determined to find out who, or what, is killing them.
So, from the synopsis you can see that this is a fairly straight forward tale, a slasher/ghost story hybrid, but the fact it’s so simple is what makes it so enjoyable, it’s a real throw back to old school horror of not just the Carpenter days of yore but of 50/60’s horror (which is the time period the film is set).
It’s also really refreshing to see a modern horror film that doesn’t rely on flat out gore to get a reaction from it’s audience. Whilst there is some blood to behold, as well as a rather nasty bit of sudden eye violence that would make Fulci proud, the film’s main weapon is it’s power to make you jump out of your seat. I can’t remember the last time I saw a film that had this many jump scares in it, and all successful ones at that. Although you’ll know when they’re coming, even when they do the old “bait and switch“, they still get you thanks to either throwing a scare in a split second early or later than you were expecting or due to the films brilliant sound mix. (Brilliant as in heart stoppingly loud orchestral stabs that rattle your bladder)
Effects are handled by the masterful imaginations of Greg Nicotero and Howard Berger (of KNB effects fame) with special mention going to the films main antagonist, with her rotting face and squirming skin.
Unfortunately Carpenter isn’t scoring the film, at least not fully, IMDB lists him as co-scoring the film, but his name wasn’t there during the opening credits, just the name of Mark Kilian, who does a fine job with the music, and there is some Carpenter-isms in the music at times, so maybes he did help out with the score.
I can see the final ten minutes being a talking point for people, I for one loved it and thought it was pretty smart, but I can see it making or breaking the film for some. I wont say anymore though, except the very last shot is fantastic and classic Carpenter.
So to sum up, although I’m not going to put this up there with ‘Halloween’ or ‘The Thing‘, it’s a definite solid comeback from Mr Carpenter, it does what it says on the tin, here‘s hoping he doesn‘t wait another ten years before he gets back behind the camera.
Welcome back Mr Carpenter.