FINAL GIRL explores the slasher flicks of the '70s and '80s...and all the other horror movies I feel like talking about, too. This is life on the EDGE, so beware yon spoilers!

Oct 25, 2011

Final Girl's The Review

When word of this so-called "John Carpenter's The Ward" began circulating, my ears were all like "We're perking up! A new John Carpenter movie? That takes place in a mental hospital? And Amber Heard is in it? Yes. Yes, we are definitely perking up." The Ward played a bunch of festivals and my brain was all like "Hey, yeah, still want to see that." Last night I finally made that dream come true, and now my ears and brain (and even, to some extent, my eyes) are all like "NO THE WARD, NOOOO. YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO BE GOOD! WE WAITED FOR YOU AND THIS IS HOW YOU REPAY US?"

Honestly, my ears and brain and eyes have a point. The Ward, you see, is a fucking slog to sit through. A slog I say! And so this review will probably be a slog to sit through as well, but at least there's not the extra layer of disappointment that The Ward boasts. I mean, it's a John Carpenter movie! While I don't expect everything to be a classic on par with his best work, there's still a bit of expectation on the part of a horror fan when the director's name is slapped onto the title. Here at Final Girl, there are no expectations! Therefore, when a review is a slog or some such, it's only one layer of suckiness. One layer of suckiness: that's my gift to you.

Anyway, The Ward. Way back in the mythological time known as "1966", a young lass named Kristen (Heard) sets fire to a farmhouse and is carted away know, the ward. The psychiatric ward, that is! I know, you thought maybe she'd be taken to Montgomery Ward for some dungaree shopping, but nope- it's off to the "nut" "house" for Kristen.

Things at the North Bend Psychiatric Hospital are about as you'd expect: nurses are mean, orderlies are mean, doctors seem nice but are likely secretly mean, there are only five patients, all five patients are hot young women, each patient is easily-labeled (the "sexy" one, the "childlike" one, etc), the patients get to wear makeup and regular clothes, and so on and so on.

Kristen ain't havin' none of this "locked up" shit, though. I don't see why! These mental patients are kooky. Oh, and if you put on a record, they totally know how to have a good time. Yes, it's the obligatory "we're not crazy, we're whimsical" dance scene!

They also take super steamy showers together, because as I have intimated, they are not only crazy, they're crazy hot! In the face! And also the side boob! But! before you start thinking this is some Designer Imposters Girl, Interrupted, we get to the reason why we're here, and why The Ward is purportedly a horror movie: a ghost shows up in the shower and puts the scare into Kristen. See, she's not there to borrow some soap on a rope, oh no- this crunchy-looking dead girl is there to get homicidal.

"Do you have any moisturizerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr I can borrowwwwww?"

No one believes Kristen about the ghost, of course. Or do they? Well, the staff doesn't. Probably. But her fellow patients do. Probably. It's all so mysterious!

At this point in the proceedings, The Ward chugs along in what one hopes is a forward-motion but in actuality it feels like it's chugging in place. This happens a few times:
  • Kristen says "I'm getting out of here!"
  • Kristen tries said getting out, is caught, is drugged and/or restrained
  • Kristen says "Hey, there's a ghost here, and she's gross and mean." (I'm paraphrasing that) (unfortunately)
  • Everyone is like "Nuh uh."
  • The ghost shows up behind a patient, wraps her Crackin' Oat Hands around the patient's throat, and kills the patient with some form of asylum therapy (Electroshock, lobotomy, etc)
  • Kristen says "Where is patient so-and-so?"
  • Everyone is like "She left".
AND SO ON. There's some sort of larger puzzle to be solved, and questions to be answered- what dark secret do the patients all share? What dark secret does Kristen have? Does the doctor have a dark secret? Why haven't I watched that copy of Dark Secret of Harvest Home that I bought? It has Bette Davis and Tracey Gold in it! And by the time the answers all arrive, you likely shrug and give a "Oh yeah, that. Okay." It's not fresh and it's nothing you haven't seen before (and better), but still, I felt the explanation redeemed the boring-ass preceding 80 minutes a bit. A bit! It was familiar, but I didn't mind. That happens. I mean, I've had pancakes more than once, and it's not as if I've said every time after the first "Oh yeah, pancakes. Whatever." They're good, so I don't mind them.

Sorry, I've been thinking about pancakes a lot lately.

But then. But then! The Ward can't leave well enough alone and simply end and go away. Nooo, it has to have one of those ridiculous last-second "This makes absolutely no sense but SHOCK ENDING CUT TO CREDITS!" endings. There haven't been many of those that have actually worked, in my opinion. You've got your Friday the 13th, where the ending makes no sense but it's startling enough to be effective. Then you've got your Pieces which is so nonsensical that it actually obliterates the space-time continuum enough that it loops around on itself and ultimately makes perfect sense. But you, The Ward...just don't. On you it's cheap. Gauche, even!

"No, seriously, I need some moisturizer."

What's good about The Ward? Hmm. The ghost looked kind of neat, I guess. Amber Heard gave it her best, which isn't half-bad. Or maybe I just think that because she's so pretty. Pretty people are better at everything!

But I tells ya- if this wasn't a "John Carpenter" movie, I probably wouldn't even review it. There's a chance I wouldn't have even watched it. But, like virtually every other horror fan out there, I was curious (and yes, excited) to see what he'd do after a decade away from the big screen. And what he did...doesn't feel like a "John Carpenter" film. Sure, his ability kept The Ward from being total crap, but that's about it. There's no tension, only cheap jump scares. It's a plodding slog of a bore to sit through. Both the signature Carpenter score and his use of Panavision are sorely, sorely missed. The Ward falls into that dreaded no-man's land of "I've seen worse, but I've seen way, way better." Oh well. At least I've now seen it. That's...something, right?


Jason Adams said...

I will think of this movie as "Designer Imposters Girl, Interrupted" from now until the end of time.

And pancakes, man! Pancakes. I've been straight up harassing my boyfriend to make pancakes for a few weeks now, and he still hasn't done it. Maybe it's because I made him watch this terrible movie. It all comes together!

Martin said...

Wow, I actually thought it was half-way decent. I'm curious to know what you thought of "Fragile", another movie I liked but others kind of dissed.

CWL said...

Respect to you for such a detailed review because I saw Carpenter at a con a few months back and even he could only manage three-word responses about it.

@DwainIBe said...

Sorry I asked for a review, this seemed like it was painful to watch. My bad.

CashBailey said...

No matter how many times John Carpenter declares his utter disinterest in continuing his film career people keep expecting him to miraculously pull a great movie out of thin air. Myself included.

John Carpenter needs to reunite with Dean Cundey, Kurt Russell, Keith David and make a western.

And am I the only one who got a serious Mira Sorvino vibe from Amber Heard in this film? I'm talking super-hot ROMY AND MICHELLE-era Mira Sorvino.

Stacie Ponder said...

I can't even imagine how tedious making a film would be if your heart isn't in it. This movie really shows it.

Martin, I don't think I've seen Fragile. I'll add it to the list, though. And don't worry...there are tons of movies I like and after talking to people, I end up feeling all alone. :)

Cap'n Howdy said...

I really wanted to like The Ward, even when it turned out to be Identity (including that last second "shocker). But it was just there. Inert. Bored with itself. I tried to convince myself that the very end was a reference to the Prince of Darkness trailer, but my brain wasn't having it.

But then I thought about the thematically similar Sucker Punch, and I'm less disappointed, because at least I could finish The Ward.

petrified said...

The scene where Amber is been pushed on a stretcher and you can see the ghost lurking in a window on the backround was hilarious! Had to rewind that twice.

s. said...

Great review! I disliked the movie as well, it was very weak and not scary at all. Amber was probably the only good thing about it.

Bleed For Me. said...

Is there still a Montgomery Ward's?

I thought those things disappeared around the same time Carpenter's credibility vanished.

deadlydolls said...

Haven't seen it yet (mostly because if reviews like yours) but what saddens me so much is that it just sounds do joyless. Carpenter hasn't always made masterpieces, but I feel like what makes his work as a whole so special is that it usually has an insane level of fun running through. The Ward doesn't sound like even that.

Unknown said...

Thank you for your review. I was tempted (for many of the same reasons you mention) to pick this up. Now I shall avoid this film thanks to your advice. As much as I loved Carpenter & Romero in their prime, that time has passed. I wish both could do one more great movie and then retire for good from film making.

Stacie Ponder said...

Emily, I think you nailed part of the problem. There's NOTHING about this movie that screams Carpenter. If I didn't know he directed it, I'd think it was by...well, anyone. It feels like a dime-a-dozen direct to DVD flick (complete with shitty Photoshop cover), which is the last thing I expected. Even Carpenter's failures (or the films I didn't like, or whatever you want to call them) feel like they're a product of his own nicotine-stained brain.

Arbogast said...

Fragile with Calista Flockhart, right? I saw that a while back and it belongs to a whole bunch of new, foreign-made horror movies that I just didn't bother reviewing, along with Hidden (2009) from Norway and other single-word horror movies from abroad that I don't even remember. Many of these movies have fine moments and good intentions - they're straight-ahead, serious horror movies made with a fairly admirable level of skill, but in the end they just don't deliver. It doesn't help that I've had to look up the title Hidden every time I've mentioned it online.

Art Almquist said...

Perfect, Stacie. Like you, I grew up on Carpenter's films, and probably like most of your readers, I count many of his films among my all-time favorites. My disppointment with "Ghosts of Mars" (and there was plenty) was nothing compared to what I felt with this one - and you nailed it, it's ultimately because it really could have been directed by anyone. ("Nicotine-stained brain" = genius, by the way.) Put it side-by-side with a Chiller late-nighter, and you woudn't know it was a JC film. As I watched it, my hope for a return to form sank further with each passing minute. I finally gave up when Heard and the ghost started to fist fight. And yes, my hope just re-died a little bit as I remembered that Heard and the ghost really had a fist fight.

Daniel said...

"Crackin' Oat Hands"


Tres said...

Just watched this on Netflix, and honestly I couldn't get past Kristen's horrible dreadlocks in the beginning. I didn't hate it, but it was decidedly "meh."