The problem with this ‘brand’ confidence though is that the last John Carpenter feature film was Ghosts of Mars in 2001 and this met with poor reviews and took only around half the film’s production budget in worldwide grosses. So, is this Carpenter’s comeback? Well perhaps not quite a triumphant comeback but The Ward is an enjoyable and well crafted horror film that does a lot to take away the bad taste left in one’s mouth by Ghosts of Mars.
The film begins with the torching of a house by the film’s lead character Kristen (Amber Heard) who is then quickly thrown into a mental hospital. The film is set in America in the 60s so the mental hospital is strict and more like a prison than a caring place for mental healing. Run by Dr. Stringer (Jared Harris) the hospital has a special ward populated by a handful of young women and this is where our lead is immediately thrown into.
Stringer seems to be focused on some sort of unique ‘cure’ with this ward and the young women are kept separate from the rest of the hospital. As Kristen gets to know the group she begins to uncover a secret at the heart of the ward and along the way the women begin disappearing.
The film is a pacey and taut 88 minutes and Carpenter does an excellent job of filling the film with a variety of effective, suspenseful scares, aided by effects work from Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero. The setting of a mental hospital provides a great location for a horror film and Carpenter plays on this with the use of the claustrophobia inherent and also the various means with which the characters can be tortured.
Particularly gruesome is the electroshock therapy that provides the opportunity for more than one toe-curling sequence. Carpenter is also reliable when it comes to effective jump scares, never falling into the current trend of a loud moment in the score followed by nothing remotely scary. Carpenter follows through on his jump scares. That’s not to say that the score isn’t aggressively invasive at times and it unfortunately lets the film down in a lot of scenes.
Carpenter’s expert crafting is obvious in The Ward though and for the most part it is an entirely rewarding experience, an entertaining story told with skill. Whilst the score occasionally has a negative impact and the performances are a little uneven the positives far outweigh these minor issues.
Originally scheduled for release earlier this year, the UK home entertainment release of The Ward was pulled once it was discovered that the aspect ratio was incorrect. This has been corrected, restoring Carpenter’s considered compositions, and the transfer on this Blu-ray is fantastic and a good representation of the film I saw theatrically earlier this year.
The Blu-ray special features are comprised of three interview segments with John Carpenter, ‘the cast’ and the producers and production designers. The Carpenter segment is the most underwhelming as it is only three minutes long and as someone who has supplied some of the best commentaries (see The Thing and They Live for instance) it’s disappointing not to hear much more from him. The remainder of the interviews are of similar length, per person, and are a little light on any depth but do provide a reasonably insight into the atmosphere on set.