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John Carpenter's The Ward - Blu-ray Review

{2jtab: Movie Review}

The Ward

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2 stars

With my “cool” card revoked for my favorable review of Fright Night, let me go ahead and suggest that maybe the mid-to-late 1970s and '80s were a better fit for writer/director John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing).  After a nine-year-absence his latest psychological thriller, The Ward, is being touted as his big return to the genre that made him famous.  Unfortunately, it isn’t a satisfying return to form…at least not completely.  While it does outshine his last film (2001’s The Ghost of Mars), The Ward leaves a lot to be desired from a man known by his fans as the cinematic master of shock and horror.

Written by Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, The Ward, interestingly set in 1966, spends most of its time in a psychiatric ward questioning the sanity of young woman named Kristen (Amber Heard) who is haunted by the grisly worm-riddled ghost of Alice (Jillian Kramer).  Under Dr. Stringer’s (Jared Harris) care, Kristen meets the other residents - Iris (Lyndsy Fonseca), Sarah (Danielle Panabaker), Emily (Mamie Gummer), and Zoey (Laura Leigh) – and together they must solve the mystery of what really happened to Alice (Mika Boorem) before all slips further into the downward spiral of electric shock therapy and madness.

Once a Howard Hawks (Rio Lobo) protégée who recognized just how shape can influence character, Carpenter disappoints with a film full of unexplored stock characters and two rather weakly thought out questions: Why did Kristen, Carpenter’s typical lone woman archetype, burn a house down in the beginning of the movie and what is up with the diseased looking ghost that haunts her?  The answers to both are, of course, related and careful students of horror who sit through the opening credit sequence of cracked mirrors will be rewarded with the answer to those questions.  Yeah, the big twist is that easy, that silly, and that disappointing.  A BIG problem in enjoying The Ward, I’d say.

Another problem is timing.  Hollywood loves to strike a vein in genre-types and mine until no gold can be removed.  Well, I think the mine cart on institutionalized crazies is empty.  We’ve already seen two films like this: Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island and Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch.  With nothing but predictable horror beats to add to the mix, the storyline feels too familiar to ever be effective in giving us a promised twist.

Regardless, Carpenter does have two masterfully crafted scenes involving all the girls in the ward.  The first is a nice sequence that features a record player, a thunderstorm, a great use of the camera, and The Newbeats’ ‘Run, Baby, Run’ from 1965.  Pure Carpenter genius.  The second features a tracking shot and a nicely placed clip from the 1960 B-movie Tormented at just the right point in the movie to add a bit of pulpy suspense.  Yet, largely the movie fails Carpenter’s own standards of filmmaking and goes for the noisy scare rather than the quiet one.

From time to time throughout The Ward, there are faint signs that Carpenter - the celebrated horror minimalist - is still behind the camera but the amount of modern-day horror hooey we have to wade through to get to those moments just isn’t worth it.

Maybe next time, Mr. Carpenter.  We eagerly await your true return.

{2jtab: Film Details}

John Carpenter's The WardMPAA Rating: R for violence and disturbing images.
Director
: John Carpenter
Writer
: Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen
Cast: Amber Heard, Mamie Gummer; Danielle Panabaker; Laura-Leigh; Lyndsy Fonseca
Genre
: Horror | Thriller
Tagline:
Only Sanity Can Keep You Alive
Memorable Movie Quote: "If I were you I'd watch out, new girl."
Distributor:
ARC Entertainment
Official Site:
theward.theofficialjohncarpenter.com
Release Date: No theatrical release
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date:
August 16, 2011

Synopsis: An institutionalized young woman becomes terrorized by a ghost.

{2jtab: Blu-ray Review}

John Carpenter's The Ward

Component Grades
Movie

Blu-ray Disc
2 stars

2 stars



Blu-ray Experience
2 stars

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - August 16, 2011
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
Subtitles
: English (SDH), none
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio English 2597 kbps 5.1 / 48 kHz / 2597 kbps / 24-bit (DTS Core: 5.1 / 48 kHz / 1509 kbps / 24-bit)
Discs: 50GB Blu-ray Disc; Single disc (1 BD)
Playback: Region Free

The 1080p transfer is stylistically muted.  Colors don’t blister and pop by design.  Detail isn’t the best as a result, but flesh tones are nice.  The film was actually shot using 35mm which is nice in this digital age, but few scenes benefit from that choice.  Detail in clothing and set designs are a bit washed from the look of the transfer.  Black levels are solid and don’t bleed when in shadows.  The DTS-HD 5.1 soundtrack is effectively loud and chilling and completely outshines any flaw found in the transfer.

Supplements:

Commentary:

  • Interestingly enough, Carpenter and Jared Harris, provide the film’s commentary.  Carpenter is fully engaged throughout the recording and - while he might be a little rusty behind the camera - the hope is that with The Ward he was just getting back into the swing of things.  He sounds animated during the commentary and, from someone who has publicly admitted to not being a fan of directing, maybe that’s a good sign that he’s back in the game.

Special Features:

Seriously?  A theatrical trailer only?  No celebration of John Carpenter?  No behind the scenes look at the making of the film?

Epic fail.

{2jtab: Trailer}

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