Sunday, 5 May 2013

The Ward (2010)

So, there I was on Saturday night, quaffing what might be termed a amusing little vintage (Chateau Demented Wallaby), and wondering what film to watch. I decide to give The Ward a try, with nothing but a very brief online synopsis to go on. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be a John Carpenter film I'd never heard of. And, yes, it has some characteristic Carpenter touches.

So, what's the deal? The film begins with a girl called Kristen (Amber Heard) setting fire to a farmhouse. The police drag her away and she is taken to a Big Spooky Mental Hospital, where - as it's 1966) she is subject to mid-20th century treatments i.e. lots of drugs and voltage across the frontal lobe. However, thanks to the apparently enlightened policy of Dr Stringer (British thesp Jared Harris), Kristen and the other girls on the special ward are allowed to draw, watch TV, listen to music, and even go outside.

From the start, questions abound. Why can't Kristen remember anything before the fire? What happened to 'Tammy', the previous inmate of Kristen's room? Who is the ghost-girl on the ward? Who are 'the sad people' seen with Stringer? When the ghost starts killing off the patients with variations on Stringer's treatments (i.e. an over-enthusiastic lobotomy), it seems we're in fairly conventional territory. Will Kristen be able to escape from North Bend hospital before she, too, is killed?

The first hour and a bit of The Ward is a well-crafted, well-acted movie that offers a few shocks, but is more interesting as a psychological thriller. Then comes Kristen's escape attempt, which is a bit of classic Carpenter - feisty girl takes on a bunch of authority figures and isn't afraid to punch them out when required. The escape goes wrong when the ghost intervenes, however, and this leads to a revelation about the sad people and the nature of the ghost, Alice.

I enjoyed The Ward not because it is radically new and daring, but because it's a fine example of a film that achieves what it sets out to do. The pace doesn't flag, the performances are good, and the look of the thing is what you'd expect from Carpenter - sometimes excellent, never dull.

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