out of Five
Running time: 88
Undeniably rubbish, yet oddly entertaining horror movie, featuring gratuitous directorial flourishes, a wooden performance from Amber Heard, dodgy special effects and an ending that's simultaneously infuriating and laughable.
What's it all about?
Directed by horror maestro John Carpenter (his first feature film in over seven years), John Carpenter's The Ward stars John Carpenter's Amber Heard as John Carpenter's Kristen, a disturbed young woman who sets fire to a building in 1966 and is promptly sent to a mental institution, with no memory of her life before the fire.
As kindly Doctor Stringer (Jared Harris) tries to unlock the secrets of her past, Kristen befriends the four other equally disturbed young women on the ward – nymphomaniac Sarah (Danielle Panabaker), nerdy Iris (Lyndsy Fonseca), volatile Emily (Mamie Gummer – Meryl Streep's daughter, trivia fans) and child-like Zoey (Laura-Leigh). But when the girls start disappearing, Kristen realises that she has to solve the mystery of what's happening to her fellow inmates if she's going to get out of the hospital alive.
To be fair, The Ward does have its moments – for example, there's at least one suitably nasty death scene that ought to keep genre fans happy. Carpenter also throws in the occasional gratuitous cinematic embellishments (such as an odd insistence on ceiling-cam shots) to keep things visually interesting, even if they serve no dramatic purpose whatsoever.
Aside from some dodgy special effects, the film's biggest problem is Amber Heard, who delivers a resoundingly wooden performance throughout and increasingly looks like the result of a failed attempt to splice Scarlett Johansson and Chloe Sevigny; she's never been the most expressive of starlets but she's even more blank-faced than usual here. Similarly, the other actresses are reduced to a series of twitchy caricatures, though there's good work from Harris (keeping a commendably straight face) and Mika Boorem makes an intriguing late appearance as a former inmate who may hold the key to the mystery.
The problems don't end there, however: the pacing drags considerably in the middle section, while the ending is at once exasperating and comical, though you end up smiling at the sheer cheek involved. Also, you have to admire the perversity of a director who can stage a gratuitous shower scene involving five naked actresses without actually showing any nudity.
John Carpenter's The Ward isn't nearly as much fun as it should have been, but it's just about worth seeing if you're after some cheap, trashy thrills and don't mind annoying endings.