We open with a random death. Of course it will be referenced later in the story, but its main purpose is to tell the audience that they’re watching a horror film, assuming that they didn’t already know that. Most slasher films like to tease the killer by not showing us all of it in this opening death scene, but usually we get a glimpse. With John Carpenter’s The Ward, we don’t even get that. We just know that this person, who we see is named Tammy, is choked to death.
We then fade to black. Honestly, I hoped that this was a joke film for John Carpenter’s comeback and that the credits would roll and we’d find out that his true comeback film would be released later on. At least, that’s how I look at it in retrospect, because I did not have a lot of fun with this film. Instead, we get the opening title credits and then a cut to Kristen (Amber Heard). She burns down a house and is then arrested by the police. They don’t even suspect that she might be a victim; she’s grabbed by the arm and taken straight to the local mental hospital. That’s how these things work, right? It kind of makes sense after the film ends, but when you first watch this, you immediately think something is wrong.
Kristen gets to meet the other people at this psych ward. By my count, there are four other young women to meet. There’s Iris (Lyndsy Fonseca), Zoey (Laura-Leigh), Emily (Mamie Gummer) and Sarah (Danielle Panabaker). Some of them have unique traits — Iris likes to draw, Zoey think she’s a little kid — but they’re basically just there to have random conversations with Kristen, as well as to be picked off one by one as the film progresses. They are what slasher flicks like to call the “victims.” Oh, there’s also a slightly creepy doctor played by Jared Harris, who serves to explain to us exactly what’s going on at the end of the film, as well as be the intimidating figure for most of the time spent in the mental institution.
The first night that Kristen spends in the asylum, her blanket is pulled from her bed and placed underneath it. When she realizes this, would you like to know what she does? She sleeps on the floor. Why? It’s not explained, and if at this point you didn’t think she was crazy, I know I was certainly leaning in that direction. What happens for most of the film has most of the secondary cast murdered one by one in occasionally creative ways. While The Ward purports to be a psychological thriller, it has far more in common with a slasher film than anything to do with the mind.
Well, actually, that’s not quite true. This is a film that likes to startle you a whole lot with loud noises and jump scenes. Not only do you get murders of attractive young women, you get random things popping up and the soundtrack deciding to get as loud as it can so that you might jump. At least, you would if it wasn’t so obvious whenever a jump scare was coming, but I can’t remember a single time I actually did jump. The attempt is there though, and if you hate those types of scenes, you will have an awful time with The Ward. Or, I suppose it’s possible that you’ll really enjoy it because you’ll be scared from these types of scenes, and it will actually succeed as a horror film for you.
For me, though, this isn’t a good horror film because it isn’t scary. I’d even accept being startled if that’s what the film was trying to do. But I didn’t feel anything during the film. It was predictable, somewhat boring, and not particularly entertaining. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that most of the film isn’t exposition or a mystery, so at least we don’t spend most of the time explaining what’s going on. That’s only reserved for the last ten minutes.
The killer in this film is supposed to be a ghost or — well, it’s something that looks like a ghost. Maybe a corpse? Let’s just leave it at that, because any more than that would be considered a spoiler. The film has a “twist” ending that isn’t all that surprising because of how frequently it has been used, but it makes some of the earlier scenes make sense, including that arrest I mentioned above. You might have already figured it out just from reading this review, but as I’m prone to say, films need to hold up after you already know the twists. In this case, it’s not good before the twist, and it’s downright silly afterward.
If there’s one positive to take from The Ward, it’s some of the deaths that occur throughout. Using the technology available in a mental hospital, we actually get some creativity to the kills, and those of you wanting to see a group of pretty girls getting picked off and killed will feel satisfied after this film is finished. And then you might want to go get yourself checked out too, because there might be something very wrong with you. Hey, at least the examination will be more fun than watching this film.
The Ward is a failure in my eyes. I couldn’t take much enjoyment from watching it. It’s not scary, it’s not startling — it’s not anything. I felt nothing while it was playing, and that’s the ultimate failure of a film. It’s a slasher film that tries to be more psychological, but mostly we get a bunch of jump scenes and death. It’s not a successful comeback for Carpenter, and it definitely isn’t worth your time.