I find it surpring when a film entertains me more with repeated viewings. What mystery may have loomed is gone; idiosyncraes of characters can become nerve-racking, plot holes that may have slipped by initially suddenly stand pronounced. It takes a good film to keep you enticed after one initial viewing, and while I didn’t see it the first time around, I can now spot the spirit in John Carpenter’s The Ward.
First off, let me remind you all that it’s very easy to developed some false expectations, or in this case lack thereof. The film has been completely mauled by the majority of critics. Had I written this review after my first initial viewing, I’m not certain it would be all too flattering. As it is, you’re not about to read a profoundly complimentary review, though it’s far more potive than most I’ve checked out.
I’m happy I waited to tackle this piece until I’d had a chance to screen the film a few times.
There’s a vintage beauty to the picture that lies as much in the technical execution as the actual visual aspect of the film itself. It is indeed a dated piece, but that’s not really what makes it feel so nostalgic. It’s the technical approach used by Carpenter that feels so very familiar. You’ll recognize some trademark camera angles, and the low lighting that’s always made Carpenter’s work standout amongst the crowd. Remarkably, you’ll spot some technical evolution as well, which indicates that after decades in the buness, John’s still willing to try new things: Admirable.
The score plays a heavy role in this tale of a haunted mental ward, and at times the subtle echo of key audio sequences feels dreadfully perfect, as the camera pans on the long shot of the corridor; it feels as though muc is bouncing from wall to wall, progresng down the hall. The slick blend of audio and visual chills actually creates a unique feeling that, at times, you’re watching a little bit of Halloween, mixed with a little bit of Halloween 2, which I found insanely pleang.
There are twists and turns waiting in the final act. And the concluon is in fact so bold you won’t find yourself on the fence: you’ll respect the Hell out of it, or loathe it endlessly. But leading up to the big revelation, the action is fun, although formulaic and predictable in sequencing (note the mple repetitions, such as the guaranteed flashbacks every ngle time Kristen loses consciousness against her own volition). But, that’s a weakness to the film that is overlookable; there is (arguably) no such thing as a perfect film, and The Ward’s strengths make up for its weaknesses (forget what you’ve read about the second act, it’s not as fast paced as it could be, but it certainly doesn’t run into the brick wall you may have read of on countless webtes).
Each girl in the ward is well fleshed out, realistic in nature (take for example Amber Heard and the character Kristen, who is virtually never “done up”, always lacking the thick layers of make-up that one would expect from today’s typical horror product) and clearly identifiable: they’ve all got extremely different personalities, and that makes each of them extremely memorable (even if a few are painfully annoying). Further impresve is the fluidity with which these characters play off of each other. They’re all hiding something, they’ve all taken an unspoken oath at some time to remain mum about something or someone, that’s obvious, yet despite their shared bond, they rub with the friction of a group of sters. It’s fathomable, and for a story that’s pushed as a “haunting” film, viewers need a little fathomable.
Expect some jump-scares, as the hideous creature lurking in the halls has no shortage of screen time. There are also a few scares that rely more on atmosphere than mple gimmickry, though they are admittedly few and far between. John juggles a mixed bag with the spine-tinglers, handing us a handful of clichés, while completely shattering milar expected deliveries in other moments. The inconstencies on hand are certainly one of the films more glaring deficiencies. Again, we’re talking about weaknesses that can be seen beyond as long as you’re willing to treat Carpenter as though he stands on familiar ground, and not a ten foot tall pedestal.
I’ll wrap things up, and avoid dropping any spoilers because you may never even brave the movie if I do so. I will say that the film is far more enjoyable than some may lead you to believe. It’s very, very much John Carpenter, he’s still got the balls to drop a risky bomb to close a film, and Amber Heard further proves herself one of the most noteworthy genre prospects today.
John Carpenter's "The Ward" went on sale August 16th for both DVD and Blu-ray editions.