Director: John Carpenter
Starring: Amber Heard, Marie Gummer, Danielle Panabaker, Laura-Leigh, Lyndsy Fonseca
This is the return of John Carpenter, hallowed director of The Thing, Halloween and several other classics of 80s cinema, to the director’s chair. He’s done a few Masters of Horror episodes, and one of them (Cigarette Burns) was good, but it was high time for him to get back to what he does best. And so here we have The Ward, a punchy, spooky horror tale of an abandoned mental hospital, at which a young woman named Kristen (Amber Heard) is taken in after burning down a barn and losing pretty much all memory as to why. She interacts with the other patients, all of whom are very different, and with the strangely and unsettlingly uncommunicative hospital staff. The only problem is, there’s a ghost roaming the halls – a ghost of a young girl who Kristen suspects was also a patient there, and who is now killing off the inmates one by one.
The Ward is just a great, classic horror tale. The suspense is ramped up high, the setting is isolated and cool and the atmosphere is wicked and hellish, building up from a slight unease to full-blown terror and heart-pounding tension, like a growing infection. There are no bells and whistles with this movie, just a delightful romp through the horror tropes that we all know and love. The gore is nice and bloody, but not extravagant. Carpenter knows the genre, and is able to manipulate us so that we never quite know where the film is going. The twist isn’t mindblowing, but it’s also not the one you’d necessarily expect with how the rest of the film is set up, and that’s the mark of a good twist.
But mostly this is good because it’s a nice retro late-80s/early-90s style horror film that just works. I just went along with this and had a ball, and if you’re an old school horror junkie you will be right at home with The Ward. If not for the super-sleek production values and modern quality, this could have been released back then. Also Carpenter makes sure to take time out of the horror for a fairly lengthy music and dance scene with the inmates. That’s the cincher; this movie rules. Go see it this Halloween or sooner if you get the urge. It’s a killer.