By Jonathan Stryker

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Source: Jonathan Stryker

Aug 17, 2011, 3:51 PM

John Carpenter's 18th feature film, THE WARD, the first film he has directed since 2001's GHOSTS OF MARS, was filmed in the summer of 2009 at the Eastern State Medical Hospital in Medical Lake, WA, as well as Spokane, WA.  The film premiered at the 2010 Toronto Film Festival, although the director was picked for jury duty and unable to attend. 

The film stars Amber Heard, who is no stranger to the horror genre.  She has appeared as the titular heroine in ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE (2006); the infected neighbor from room 406 in ZOMBIELAND (2009); Kelly Porter in the remake of THE STEPFATHER (2009); and as Stephanie in the remake of AND SOON THE DARKNESS (2010).  Here she stars as Kristen, a young woman who deliberately burns down a house and is taken away by police officers to the North Bench Psychiatric Hospital in Oregon.  The action is set in the summer of 1966 so as you can imagine the psychiatric Ward, which requires restricted access, looks like something out of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST. 

Booked and processed, she seems to be oblivious as to why she is there.  The address "18 Old Post Rd." is written on the inside of her left hand, presumably the location of the house she just converted to ashes.  Cleaned up, she is given the room that used to be occupied by a girl named Tammy, another inmate who we see strangled prior to the opening credits.    

While there, she keeps to herself as the other inhabitants, all young women, try to find out why she is there, all under the watchful eye of Nurse Lundt (Susanna Burney) and Roy (D.R. Anderson), both in charge of the Ward.  The usual carping among the inhabitants takes place, as Kristen just wants to be left alone.  In her cell, she finds a broken bracelet that used to belong to someone named "Alice."  Dr. Stringer (Jared Harris) seems genuinely interested in helping her and tries to get her to remember her past, averting his gaze long enough to allow her to swipe a metal envelope opener off of his desk.  Was this deliberate or is he just careless? 

The other girls in the Ward, Emily (Mammie Gummer), Sarah (Danielle Panabaker), Zoey (Laura-Leigh), and Iris (Lyndsy Fonseca), all have their share of problems.  When Kristen sees a recurring figure, a horribly mutilated woman almost as hideous as the dead girl in the car in GHOST STORY, she tries desperately to tell the Ward's staff, begging them to believe her, but they just give her a shot to calm her down, and eventually resort to shock therapy.   

When Sarah suddenly vanishes, Kristen becomes more frightened and demands answers, resorting to violence to get what she wants.  She retaliates against the staff who always get their hands on her as there are more of them than there are of her.    

The film is fairly creepy overall, with a SHUTTER ISLAND feel to it.  While it's not up to par with Mr. Carpenter's earlier ventures into horror (to be fair, how many films are?), it's a nifty psychological thriller with some genuine thrills - not bad for a director who wanted to make westerns and got pulled into the horror genre.  A psychiatric hospital is always an unsettling place, and North Bend, with its long corridors and twists and turns, proves to be a creepy backdrop to the mayhem that ensues. 

The film progresses at breakneck speed in its final reels and the twist that comes, while not completely original, does have a nice payoff when it arrives.  We see images of a young girl chained up in a horrible place, forced to commit awful sexual favors to a despicable perpetrator, and this gives us some clues regarding the inhabitants of the Ward. 

Amber Heard is an under-rated actress and she delivers quite well in this thriller.  The supporting cast, especially Mammie Gummer, Meryl Streep's granddaughter in case you're on Jeopardy, and yes that is her name, are all quite good as the young women confined for a variety of reasons. 

Greg Nicotero proves once again that he doesn't like taking vacation days and provides his usual excellent make-up effects. 

The DVD and Blu-ray both contain an entertaining audio commentary with the director and actor Jared Harris who plays Dr. Stringer, the doctor assigned to helping Kristen.  They do go off on a tangent at times, but always manage to get back to the action at hand.  A theatrical trailer is also included. 

Definitely worth seeing!


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