Review: John Carpenter's The Ward

John Carpenter's The Ward (2010, directed by some guy)

A pretty young girl runs through the woods in her nightie, dodging the police searching for her, until she finds an old farm house. She sets it on fire, then collapses to the ground and watches it burn. When she gets picked up, this time the authorities are taking no chances. This time, she's being driven straight to an asylum and put in... The Ward. Dum-dum-dah!!!

Over each of the last few years Midnight Madness has featured a film from a true horror legend. 2008 saw Dario Argento's third Mothers film (which, while not great, was at least not a total disaster and had a baby being tossed from a bridge); last year saw George Romero's Survival of the Dead (a film that broke my heart, frankly, it was so terrible); and this year we got John Carpenter's The Ward, a throwback horror film about a Gaggle of Starlets trapped in an insane asylum that may or may not be haunted.

As throwback horror films go, it was fine. Carpenter doesn't do anything particularly inventive or showy, but he also doesn't botch a script that contains some glimmers of intelligence. He's an old hand at this stuff, and it shows in both good ways (it doesn't give the game away too quickly) and bad (it lacks that manic energy all the best horror films share). Maybe Carpenter's most positive impact came in casting. Amber Heard is very good as Kristen, the strong and resourceful girl trying to keep the other inmates together and alive, while Kick-Ass' Lyndsy Fonseca also has a couple of good moments as the sensitive artist Iris.

I want to say more about it, but it's hard to muster a lot of enthusiasm for it. The Ward isn't bad, but it isn't great. The monster is decently well done enough, the asylum looks creepy enough, the scares and kills are OK, and Jared Harris is appropriately ominous as the possibly sinister Dr. Stringer. By Carpenter's standards The Ward is definitely one of his lesser films, but it's at least a step up from Ghosts of Mars. By the standards Romero set in 2009 though, it's a goddamn masterpiece. Sometimes, 'OK' and 'competent' aren't just damning with faint praise. They're actually a relief.

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