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Ward, The (Blu-ray Review)

17 Aug, 2011 By: John Latchem

$24.99 DVD, $29.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘R’ for violence and disturbing images.
Stars Amber Heard, Lyndsy Fonseca, Danielle Panabaker, Mamie Gummer, Jared Harris, Laura-Leigh, Mika Boorem.

In the early scenes of The Ward, John Carpenter’s first directorial effort since 2001’s Ghosts of Mars, a young woman (Amber Heard) runs through the woods of Oregon in a white nightie. Just before the police find her, she sets fire to a white farmhouse.

Her name is Kristen, and she is taken to a special ward of the local psych hospital, where the doctors are said to specialize in experimental treatments. The hospital is staffed by movie-standard rude orderlies and a Nurse Ratched clone running the admin desk.

The only other patients are four girls who all seem to be about the same age as Kristen, with varying conditions that aren’t quite specified. But they’re in a mental hospital, so they must be somewhat crazy, right? We also aren’t quite sure why Kristen is there, though it seems tied into the fact she doesn’t remember anything before the fire.

Obviously, everything isn’t quite what it seems, and the movie starts to play out like a horror version of Girl, Interrupted. We learn that before Kristen arrived the other patients may have been involved in the disappearance of a girl named Alice. Now, Alice’s ghost has returned to enact revenge.

This sort of thing is Carpenter’s wheelhouse, and The Ward never wants for creepiness or tension. The way he stages nearly every scene perfectly suits the mood needed to maintain audience interest as the central ambiguity lingers. A lot of the credit also goes to Heard, one of the few actresses who can seem tough, vulnerable and absolutely beautiful all at the same time.

In some ways The Ward almost can be seen as a deconstruction of the nature of horror movies. It mostly works as an in-the-moment psychological thriller, up until a final revelation that, not to get all spoilery, basically contains the same premise as the movie with John Cusack and Amanda Peet that isn’t 2012 or Martian Child. And if you know the name of that movie without having to look it up, that won’t necessarily negate your enjoyment of The Ward, but it might mitigate it a little.

The only extra on the Blu-ray is a commentary with Carpenter and actor Jared Harris (“Mad Men”), who plays the doctor. In addition to an enthusiastic reflection on the film, they cover such topics as British accents, soccer and how Carpenter pursued a film career because he wanted to make Westerns. How he ended up in horror is a story for another day.

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