The Ward
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The Ward

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Every genre is subject to formularization but a few have a tendency to adhere exceptionally close to a well established set of guide lines. One type of film that is perpetually positioned at the apex of such a listing is the venerable favorite in the independent film world; horror. Typically you need a menacing figure bent on optimizing the amount of pain, destruction and death, and of course, a suitable collection of hapless victims to be picked off one by one in increasingly bizarre fashion. Currently a group of teens setting off to get high and have sex is sufficient motivation to propel a horror flick into the theaters or at least a direct to video venue. It doesn’t matter who is doing whatever to whom there is one criterion that is consistent, upheld in the vast majority of horror stories, the location. Physical isolation is critical to every variation of horror from the simple summer camp fire scary story to the most elaborate Hollywood thriller; the story teller has to devise some plausible means to separate the designated victims from any hope of rescue or escape. The proliferation of cell phones has added a slight increase in achieving this requisite but it is common for any horror writer to easily circumvent. This need for isolation can be achieved in a myriad in many ways ranging from the traditional gothic mansion to the deserted wooded area or lonely country road. The variation utilized in the movie under review here, ‘The Ward’ represents and tried and true favorite, the old institution for the mentally ill. Often it is specifically as a place to house the criminally insane but a facility with sadistic staff can serve just as adequately. If the institution houses a female patient demographic can be an advantage offering the potential for more salacious scene or two in the showers assuring an increase in the teenage boy targeted audience. To its credit this film doesn’t overly rely on such puerile tactics to attract its audience, it depends on the reputation of the filmmaker within the sphere of the genre and some tautly filmed moments of psychological terror to hold the attention of the viewers. Despite it pedigree this flick is not going to be included in any ‘greatest hits’ list either for the filmmaker of genre but it is a welcome departure from the hackney teen slash and dash movies that has overwhelmed horror in the last couple of decades.

The director of this movie is a certified master of Horror, John Carpenter. He opens the film in a fashion he successfully employed before; a flashback to the mental institution. Tammy (Sali Sayler), a patient, is brutally attacked by an unseen assailant. As a result the assault the young woman is killed. This sets the stage establishing a few of the basic requirements. The location is one conducive to people prone to violent behavior and the staff is not terribly efficient in curtailing such behavior. Bouncing immediately to the present we are introduced to the main protagonist of the story, Kristen (Amber Heard). She is a beautiful albeit emotionally disturbed young woman with a perchance towards pyromania. This is manifested by her setting a farmhouse ablaze. Thankfully, the building was uninhabited but the local authorities take her into custody brining her to North Bend Psychiatric Hospital for the mandatory psychiatric evaluation. In the general population ward Kristen meets the other patients all suitably attractive and represents a fairly broad selection of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual’s table of context. The others on deck for a lot of screaming are; Iris (Lyndsy Fonseca), Sarah (Danielle Panabaker), Emily (Mamie Gummer), and Zoey (Laura Leigh). Now all that is required is some tenuous connection to the introductory scene; Kristen is placed in the room that once was assigned to the late Tammy. The physiatrist in change of this group is Dr. Stringer (Jared Harris). Aside from the overt symptom of setting the fire Kristen is afflicted with a staple of any mental hospital in film, amnesia. This technique is perfect for infusing the story with a touch of mystery and offers a ‘movie plausible’ rational for several otherwise dubious explanations. Here the absence of her own memories appears to have left Kristen more receptive to intrusion by a maleficent spirit such as Tammy. The initial inkling of this supposition is when Kristen attempts to escape but when she returned to the room she sees a horribly disfigured young woman. Later, the same mysterious person attacks her while in the shower; I did mention ‘overly rely’ when discussing this type of shot. Kristen later discovers a sketch book belonging to Iris that contains drawing of the macabre creature which further compounds the mystery and Kristen’s already exaggerated level of anxiety. A clue to the undead assailant comes with a name in the book associated with the sketch, ‘Alice Hudson’, a former patient.

The plot is admittedly is significantly more convoluted that usually found in a horror film. Some of that might be attributed to the screenwriters, Shawn and Michael Rasmussen. This is their second time with a horror script and while all the twists and turns relate directly to the story or a well placed red herring perhaps a more seasoned author could have told the story in a more economical fashion. The story works as a solid ghost story but in this case greater efficiency would have helped considerably. The idea here is to emulate the to the point story telling found around a camp fire or in the epitome of horror, something along the lines of an EC comic such as ‘Tales from the Crypt’. So, if you are looking for a reasonably good beer and pizza flick this might just serve up a few chills.

Posted 05/27/12

 

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