Thursday, 27 January 2011

John Carpenter's The Ward

2010. Dir: John Carpenter. Starring: Amber Heard, Lyndsy Fonseca, Mamie Gummer, Danielle Panabaker and Jared Harris. ●●●○○

Yesterday I fell head over heels for cinem that pushes boundaries, today, alas it's back to the grind with John Carpenter's The Ward, a movie that is no doubt proud of it's crass commercialism. Neither a leading piece in it's field of ghost stories nor a woefully dull failure John Carpenter's return to the genre is best defined as a steaming pile of averageness.

Amber Heard is the pyromaniac Kristen committed to North Bend Psychiatric hospital, looking suspiciously like an apartment block I stayed at in Florida once, learning how to get along with her ragtag bunch of fellow inmates and suspiciously forceful nursing staff. Of course anyone who's ever seen a horror movie set in an asylum already knows how this is going to end, although it reminded me most of a James Mangold's 2003 motel-set thriller (that'll be a spoiler so don't look it up unless you want to know the ending).

Of course we all know with a John Carpenter movie it's not the ending we're interested in but the journey. The titular ward is creepy enough with it's random blackouts and obilgatory electrical storms, and the staff do a good job of appearing to be either brutal or complicit in the games played by it's ethereal presence. Jared Harris in particular, as her gentle shrink, seems to be hiding much too much information about Kristen's past.

The other girls bravely try to play their intentionally cliched, cardboard cut-out characters without overplaying the slutty/kooky/bookish element written into the role. At the tim I thought Mamie Gummer did the best job, but just hours later I suspet I was influenced subconciously by her mother just proving how I too belong in that asylum.

The scares are there, hands jumping out of steamy shower scenes, bodies flying out of enclosed spaces, and there are even nods to the less effective gorno tactics of modern horror with electric shock therapy causing bleeding eyes, but without any feeling for the characters you tend not to care which of the supporting ladies will disappear first.

I suppose we couldn't have expected a return to Hallowe'en level talent for Carpenter, but at least he's improved greatly since his last couple of movies.

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