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