The Ward (2010)
★ / ★★★★
Kristen (Amber Heard), for unknown reasons, decides to burn down a farmhouse. She is captured by the cops and eventually handed over to a psychiatric institution where Dr. Stringer (Jared Harris) is in charge of implementing her treatment. On her first night, awakening from a nightmare, Kristen notices something strange. She feels she isn’t alone. It is immediately apparent that a ghost wants to get her attention.
“The Ward,” written by Michael Rasmussen and Shawn Rasmussen, is full of red herrings predictably designed to throw us off-course so it can deliver a “shocker” ending. I wasn’t surprised nor was I amused. I was frustrated and angry because it really only has one technique. The filmmakers hope that by blindfolding its audiences and making us spin ’round and ’round through its confusingly muddled story, we will get dizzy enough and eventually be convinced that it has something profound to offer. I find movies of this sort distasteful because it is brazen enough to treat us like idiots.
John Carpenter’s direction is painfully lackadaisical. For instance, when Kristen attempts to escape the hospital, there is no sense of urgency. She tries about five times and each time the set-up is the same: it is obvious that once the ghost appears, and it always does without warning, Kristen will not make it out that night. It’s sad that even Pavlov’s dogs have sharper instinct than the protagonist. Each attempt at an escape is not diverse enough to be memorable.
Kristen comes to know four girls (Mamie Gummer, Danielle Panabaker, Laura-Leigh, Lyndsy Fonseca) who might know a little bit about the hospital’s recent past and quite possibly the reason why the ghost is angry and wants to kill. However, their conversations lack depth. With each scene they share, someone always brings up the idea of escaping and another counters, “It’s impossible to get out.” By the third time the same conversation takes place, I was convinced that the material is simply stalling because it has nothing else to say. It is depressing to watch.
The filmmakers had a chance of making a really creepy film set in a mental hospital. What they should have done is explore the duality of the human psyche reflected in the characters’ surroundings. Make the doctors and orderlies more friendly. Allow the hallways to look bright. Establish an inviting and energetic milieu, especially in the morning. Nighttime should have been an entirely different reality.
This is where Carpenter should have nailed it on the head. I waited for the camera to slither through the hallways and lure us, perhaps even dare us, to look in the darkness. Make us jump, give us false alarms, force us to bite our nails out of anticipation–just do something to make us care. Instead, the camera moves rapidly without purpose other than to induce migraines. When the camera does remain still, a slight movement of something behind the character on the foreground is often accompanied by a deafening score. There is nothing scary or interesting about it because it doesn’t even bother to tease our expectations. It is lazy, stale, and completely unnecessary.