The Ward

Year: 2010
Production Co: FilmNation Entertainment
Director: John Carpenter
Writer: Michael Rasmussen/Shawn Rasmussen
Cast: Amber Heard, Jared Harris, Danielle Pannabaker, Lyndy Fonseca

Here's some film fan heresy; John Carpenter's always had an outsized reputation. He did indeed forge completely new things and kick off movements thanks to Halloween and The Thing , and plenty of his films like Big Trouble in Little China and John Carpenter's Vampires have been guilty pleasures.

But he's never made anything as singular again, and many of his movies have gone from yawningly average (In the Mouth of Madness, Starman) to outright rubbish (Escape from LA, Ghosts of Mars).

This neat, self-contained little flick isn't his worst, but it's a pretty disposable ghost story considering the supposedly titanic talent behind it.

For some reason that's never explained (nor carried forward – all the characters seem very rooted in the modern day), it's set in the late 60s. But Amber Heard – who makes anything worth watching – plays Kristen, a young woman stumbling through the woods after setting fire to a farmhouse when the police catch up with her and deliver her to an archetypal creepy mansion insane asylum.

Not as completely cracked as you first assume, Kristen starts to gradually get comfortable among the other young women who populate her ward, and aside from the horrific form of a decomposed girl who keeps jumping out at her, she might even be getting better.

But Kristen is smarter and more daring than her contemporaries, and while she tries to stay out of the way of the ghoul haunting her in the shower, dark rooms, shadowy corners, etc, she plans her escape before the doctors and staff use electroshock therapy to fry her brain as part of her treatment.

Mysteries pile up – from the strange, well-dressed couple who show up every now and then to look mournfully up at Kristen through the window while they talk to the doctor to the identity of Alice, the creepy ghost whose existence Kristen accepts suspiciously readily.

When her newfound friends start getting bumped off in grisly fashion, the mystery becomes more urgent before Alice gets her hands on Kristen herself and finishes her off. It all leads to a Shutter Island-level twist that calls back and explains every aspect of the story (though not with the most deft hand).

You can't completely blame Carpenter for the so-so result – unlike most of the work horror fans know him for, he was a director for hire on someone else's script. Heard doesn't have to even try to act to be beautiful, so it's all very watchable. But you've seen this ghost story twist thing a hundred times.

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