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THE WARD Review (or An Open Letter to John Carpenter's Haters)

John Carpenter The Ward Movie Review
by Michael Pickle, MoreHorror.com

As most of you have already heard, horror legend John Carpenter has finally released another feature film. His first since GHOSTS of MARS in 2001. As a huge fan of the master's work; I have been eagerly anticipating this release since first hearing the rumors. Especially since his entries into the Masters of Horror series, CIGARETTE BURNS and PRO-LIFE, were among the best of the bunch and lit his fire to start making films again.

Unfortunately, once THE WARD started making its rounds, I heard exactly what I expected. Critics and fans lining up to say how much it sucks. Something about Carpenter's work has always had movie snob vultures circling. Waiting to pick it apart. Once again, as with HALLOWEEN, THE FOG, THE THING and most of his other work; the vultures have unjustly accused Carpenter of suckage.The same people who trash these films are the same ones who cite the very same films as among their favorite horror years later. I believe these people try to pigeon-hole Carpenter into their own narrow scope. They want him to make the same film every time, and if he did, they would trash him for that too.

Maybe it's Carpenter's justified bitterness toward the movie industry in general. Maybe he's always ahead of his time so close-minded elitists can't see his greatness until the industry has caught up to him. I don't know, but I must say I'm sick of it.

"THE WARD" is a fine film. A statement that will likely be met with resistance based on what I've heard. Is it among his finest work? No, but that doesn't take anything away from it. It may not have the impact of HALLOWEEN or THE THING, but it's most certainly his best work since IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS and sure as hell does not "suck".

THE WARD stars Amber Heard as Kristen. A troubled and confused young woman who is thrown into a mental institution after burning down a farmhouse. She is put under the care of Dr. Stringer (Jared Harris) who has been using experimental therapy on his patients. As Kristen begins to bond with the other inmates Emily, Sarah, Zoey and Iris; she starts being stalked by the terrifying and baneful ghost of former inmate Alice.

As the story unfolds; the ghost grows more powerful and starts murdering the girls one by one. Kristen pleads with Dr. Stringer that she's not crazy and the threat of Alice's ghost is real. This doesn't do much to validate her claim of not being crazy. Her only hope is to convince the remaining girls to escape from the hospital before they become Alice's next victims. A satisfying twist at the end brings everything around full circle.

The main thing I noticed about this film is Carpenter's excellent shot composition. Objects and people alike are carefully placed in the frame for a heightened dramatic effect. Strategically placed dolly shots and sweeping camera movements give it a nice cinematic feel and help maintain the dark mood through the entire film. The writing, acting and score are all fairly solid, but the most impressive thing on display here is Carpenter's unique horror sensibility and the ability to maintain his style while not being derivative of the rest of his work.

THE WARD stands on its own and it's best to be viewed that way. If viewers would stop comparing it to their personal favorite selection of Carpenter's massive and eclectic body of work then they would see a taut supernatural thriller. A modern effort by a seasoned veteran that may not be as effective as some of his own work, but is just as good as most the films in mainstream horror today.

The Ward Movie Still

The one thing that may rub people the wrong way is the over-exposure of the ghost. There's some excellent make-up work and the scenes with Alice the demon ghost are well done, but we get up close and personal with a blackened, rotting and evil looking corpse of a girl throwing people around, slitting their throats and frying their brains. This takes people's imaginations right out of the equation and gives them something so visible that the mystery of the supernatural it taken away and replaced by a more physical slasher type killer. This is just fine with me.

Show me a murderous ghost running around the halls of a huge, bad-ass insane asylum thinking of various ways to mame and kill a bunch of cute and crazy chicks without leaning on CG and I'm there. Add the unmistakable flair of a Master of Horror and it's going in my collection for repeat viewing. Maybe I'll even show it to some of its critics years from now when their minds have once again slowly caught up to John Carpenter's genius.

The Ward John Carpenter on Set

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