Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #218
Number of Views: One
Release Date: September 13, 2010 (Toronto Film Festival), July 8, 2011 (United States)
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $5,069,499
Running Time: 89 minutes
Director: John Carpenter
Producers: Doug Mankoff, Peter Block, Mike Marcus, Andrew Spaulding
Screenplay: Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen
Special Effects: Howard Berger, Greg Nicotero, Kevin Wasner, Brian Goehring
Visual Effects: Jason Mckee, Travis Berry
Cinematography: Yaron Orbach
Score: Mark Kilian
Editing: Patrick McMahon
Studios: Echo Lake Entertainment, A Bigger Boat, FilmNation Entertainment
Distributors: ARC Entertainment, XLrator Media
Stars: Amber Heard, Mamie Gummer, Danielle Panabaker, Laura-Leigh, Lyndsy Fonseca, Mika Boorem, Jared Harris, Sali Sayler, Susanna Burney, D.R. Anderson, Sean Cook, Jillian Kramer, Mark Chamberlin, Andrea Petty
Suggested Audio Candy
Mark Kilian “The Ward Suite”
Anybody at all familiar with Keeper’s personal heroes will be only too aware that a certain John Carpenter is right up there in the upper echelons. His work seems to be separated into two pools; pre nineties and otherwise. Whilst clearly his work suffered a dip in quality after his heyday, it is also worth noting that he endured a rather torrid time from studios determined to sully his reputation in the search for the elusive green buck. Let’s consider the facts shall we?
Dark Star, Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, The Fog, The Thing, Big Trouble in Little China, They Live and Prince of Darkness. These, in particular, stood out during his early reign and there is hardly a bad word I can level at any one of these fine motion pictures. However, if you take a closer look at his later résumé, there are a number of features which stand on their own merits. In The Mouth of Madness may be convoluted but it is still a solid thriller, Memoirs of The Invisible Man marked a departure for him but is actually a rather decent film when judged on its own merits and, at his lowest ebb, he still pumped out Vampires and Ghosts of Mars, two flawed but still enjoyable pieces of hokum.
Then he resurfaced with Cigarette Burns and Pro-Life, two vignettes from the Masters of Horror sequence which Keeper has actually never seen but will endeavor to do so within the coming week. Suddenly the adulation, whilst admittedly more muted now, began to recirculate and thus, when he announced his return to full-length features with The Ward, the pulses started to quicken once more. However, in such circumstances, it is easy to become carried away by unrealistic assumption. In order to fully appreciate his sentiment here one needs to disconnect and judge the film on its own merits as, should you set it up to fail, then it will invariably leave you wanting.
Thus it is critical that y’all be aware of a few certain factors before commencing your short stay in The Ward. The screenplay isn’t his own and his customary score is conspicuously absent. This isn’t Carpenter with each finger in a different pie, instead there’s only one crust his digits are hooked into and, on this count, he does the best with the tools afforded him. The Rasmussen Brothers’ treatment is clinical but a little pedestrian and none fly over the cuckoo’s nest in this particular ward. Amber Heard’s Kristen has the widest wingspan and proves once again that All The Boys Love Mandy Lane was no fluke but the other inmates are a little cookie-cutter and lacking the care and attention required for them to truly stand out.
The plot has all the trimmings of a standard supernatural thriller and it is clear from the offset that this isn’t the labor of love some will be expecting. Our beleaguered lead is cooped up inside the eponymous asylum of the title after setting fire to a dilapidated farmhouse and, once admitted, begins to suffer from disconcerting night terrors which increasingly plague her already frail psyche and appear to be trimming the numbers. Being naturally inquisitive, she begins to question and investigate this unfortunate sequence of events and, in doing so, unravels something much darker than she anticipated. If she’d just taken her meds instead of regurgitating them into her mattress seams it could have been a whole different ball game.Hindsight really can be a son-of-a-bitch.
What harms The Ward most is that it nestles in between the timelines of the glut of Americanized J-horror neutering of the noughties and James Wan and Scott Derrickson’s masterful inaugurations of visceral terror from newer pastures and sits on the cusp without ever really leaving a lasting footprint. Tension is handled well by Carpenter and he keeps his end of the deal up consistently but there’s just not quite enough meat on the marrow to elevate this from the crowd. It has its jolts and some suitably grisly FX from the ever-dependable Howard Berger and Greg Nicotero but all feels a tad muted.
Heard’s tormented turn is worthy of note and Jared Harris (Mad Men) pops up as her conflicted doctor, exhibiting the embodiment in all things British but ably keeping us guessing as to his intention. A little more characterization with the other inmates wouldn’t have gone amiss as they fall a little short of the Dream Warriors, not through lack of trying more dearth of real gristle to guzzle. Meanwhile, Mark Kilian’s humming electronic score is virtuous and quietly respectful but never quite scales the apex of Carpenter’s own compositions.
Your brief stay in The Ward will be pleasant, cordial and just a little sterile. Remember on commencement, the mighty John Carpenter is sitting beyond the lens, thus our safe passage is always ensured and those Ghosts of Mars seem to have been exorcised. When all is said and done, however, this is never anything more than solid and the vintage remains firmly corked.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Berger & Nicotero are to practical SFX what Batman & Robin are to latex briefs and they supply plenty of workmanlike grue, including throat slicing, peeper jabbing and a course of shock treatment which would make The Chief’s eyes water. The maggot-writhing dead flesh on display may well have you scratching.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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