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The Ward: Film Review

The Bottom Line

An atmospheric supernatural thriller that has been stripped of the filmmaker's later excesses.

Venue:

Toronto International Film Festival

Director:

John Carpenter

Cast:

Amber Heard, Mamie Gummer, Jared Harris

While by no means a masterpiece of the form, John Carpenter's "The Ward" is an economical period piece that still effectively demonstrates what a skilled technician can accomplish in a single location with a compact cast and sturdy old-school effects.

TORONTO -- After nearly a decade away from the big screen (since 2001's Ghosts of Mars, to be precise), versatile genre director John Carpenter returns with a spare, atmospheric supernatural thriller that has been stripped of the filmmaker's later excesses.

While by no means a masterpiece of the form, John Carpenter's The Ward is an economical period piece that still effectively demonstrates what a skilled technician can accomplish in a single location (an imposing, creaky psychiatric hospital) with a compact cast (including Amber Heard and Jared Harris) and sturdy old-school effects (by Gregory Nicotero and Howard Berger).

This shoestring Shutter Island should have no difficulty attracting the attention of domestic and international distributors -- it's already attached to Alliance Films for the Canadian market and opens next month in the Netherlands -- that can count on Carpenter's loyal fan base to welcome him back.

Set during the 1960s, the film centers on the arrival of Kirsten, a distraught, disoriented young woman (Heard), who is thrown in a foreboding mental institution (played by the still-operational, remote Eastern Washington State Mental Hospital, formerly Eastern Washington State Hospital for the Insane), after setting fire to an old farmhouse.

She shares a ward with four other disturbed young females, including the cold, confident Sarah (Danielle Panabaker), the sweet-natured Iris (Lyndsy Fonseca), the outcast Emily (Mamie Gummer) and the childlike Zoey (Laura-Leigh).

Oh, and there's one more "patient" roaming the dark corridors of North Bend Psychiatric Hospital: the ghastly, ghostly Alice (Mika Boorem), who appears hellbent on systematically cutting back the patient population.

Although shot in color, Carpenter's film clearly is paying homage to the distinctly '60s style of Samuel Fuller's black-and-white classic Shock Corridor while incorporating his own trademark scare tactics, which always relied more on camera movement and editing than buckets of blood.

He probably does everything he can to visually boost the trick script by Michael Rasmussen and Shawn Rasmussen, but despite its big end reveal, it's neither unique nor clever enough to be memorable.

His spirited young female cast serves the picture well, though some, including Heard, convincingly look the part in their sassy '60s clothing -- courtesy of costume designer Lisa Caryl -- but sound tellingly contemporary.

Harris, meanwhile, carries the right amount of authority as Heard's seemingly indifferent therapist, D. Stringer.

Venue: Toronto International Film Festival
Production: Filmnation Entertainment, Premiere Picture, Echo Lake Entertainment, A Bigger Boat
Cast: Amber Heard, Mamie Gummer, Danielle Panabaker, Jared Harris
Director: John Carpenter
Screenwriters: Michael Rasmussen, Shawn Rasmussen
Executive producers: David Rogers, Adam Betteridge, Rich Cowan
Producers: Doug Mankoff, Peter Block, Mike Marcus, Andrew Spaulding
Director of photography: Yaron Orbach
Production designer: Paul Peters
Music: Mark Kilian
Costume designer: Lisa Caryl
Editor: Patrick McMahon
No rating, 88 minutes
Sales Agent: FilmNation Entertainment