Thursday, 26 April 2012

The Ward (2010)

After dabbling in a spot of arson a disturbed young lady (Amber Heard) is admitted to a psychiatric hospital where she is subjected to Doctor Stringer’s pioneering therapies and accosted by an angry ghost that begins to kill her fellow ward-mates one by one.

Set in the late 60’s this workman-like horror achieves a good sense of time and place: the hospital has its obligatory haunted corridors and secret rooms, Jared Harris lends enough ambiguity to his role as the Doctor so we never know whether he is coolly mad or genuinely caring, but I never felt like the film added anything new to the genre. So it maybe a run of the mill horror that goes through its predictable machinations but the acting is sturdy and there are a few neat shocks; to be fair, it’s a perfectly good friday night chiller but what I found to be really at stake here is the reputation of its director, John Carpenter.

John Carpenter is responsible for creating classic pieces of cult genre cinema (Assault of Precinct 13, Halloween, The Fog, The Thing, Christine, Escape from New York, Big Trouble in Little China), and since those classics, which were made over 25 years ago, he succumbed to a series of flops (Memoirs of an Invisible Man, Ghosts of Mars, Escape from LA, Village of the Damned) which have left his fan base always eager to see if his latest work will rejuvenate or disappoint them. It’s a case of him not necessarily (re)creating a “Carpenter” film - especially when we have learnt that the likelihood of this happening is now so low - but more about containing enough  Carpenteresque moments to satisfy fans. The fans know Carpenter has the ability; surely his light will shine again, we hope, or maybe it will just be a faint glimmer, we will except.

This fall in standard is not unusual. For example look at Dario Argento (the less said about his input post The Stendhal Syndrome (1996) the better) and Francis Ford Coppola (after Rumble Fish (1983) what happened?). They had great periods, some spanned a handful of classic films, others more. Then the magic ran out. Maybe it’s not necessarily to do with talent being limited but more to do with a change in the way studios are run; restriction has dampened their flame.

So with The Ward, Carpenter did not create a new cult classic to add to his still impressive filmography, but the sad thing is that from a director who was so individual, this film could have been made by any horror hack.