John Carpenter's "The Ward" is an uneven cataclysm; a mess, a bore, and kind of a dud. I can't say it's terribly bad, but it's a mood piece that has plenty of atmosphere and "jump scare" to boot, although the story is one that no amount of craft can support. Carpenter hasn't really made a good film for a while now, and this is his first directorial feature since 2001's "Ghosts of Mars". Will the man ever recover from his coma of mediocrity, or shall he remain in it forevermore? Only time will tell, but from where I'm standing, the (genuinely negative) results appear conclusive. "The Ward" is just "meh". Nothing worse and nothing better than just that. It's an easy skip and a complete waste of time, although I wouldn't go so far as to call it trash. It is far from Carpenter's worst movie, but considering he's also the guy who made the masterfully-directed "Halloween" and the remake/re-imagining "The Thing", there's plenty that he has to live up to, and "The Ward" doesn't come anywhere close to success.
Kristen (Amber Heard) strikes a match and lights a farmhouse on fire, burning both the exterior and interior of the building as it stood. We don't know why she did this, but the police find her in time and bring her to a psychiatric hospital, where she is treated for the problems that could have provoked her destructive nature on that day. Kristen finds it difficult to cope with these inexplicable problems, and her stress only makes her look less-and-less normal each day. She is helped by the head Doctor of the ward, Dr. Stringer (Jared Harris). During her stay, she also attempts to socialize with the other insane and emotionally disturbed girls around her (a few of which are portrayed by Danielle Panabaker, Laura-Leigh, Lyndsy Fonseca, and Mammie Gummer). She befriends a handful of them immediately, and in their moments of proper extensive dialogue, it is revealed that the spirit of a former patient haunts the ward from the inside-out. This is the ghost of the girl Alice, who has a connection to each of the girls in a peculiar way; each one different from the next...or the last.
As one would expect, the girls get curious since the adult characters consider them mad. They try to make peace with the ghost of Alice, although they soon learn that things just aren't that simple. Regardless, their efforts take them to dark places, and by the conclusion, every fractured, loose-ended piece of the puzzle is put in place. Such a shame that it still feels incomplete and worst of all, rather inconclusive.
The film makes the mistake of focusing more on cinematography and mood alone instead of the more important elements such as characters and story. While there was certainly some potential in each of these girls, Carpenter makes no attempts to give them likable personalities. There's a girl that is seemingly unable to let go of her childhood values and behaviors. I would have liked to know more about her and her origin story, even if she was mildly annoying at times, but no luck there. And when all is said and done, there's little to actually CARE about. The characters, on top of the flawed storytelling methods, do not exactly make an entertaining film.
Technically, this is a 50/50 sort of film. It looks great in some scenes, and some of the shots set up some seriously moody and atmospheric moments (or at least what seems like one), but then other scenes are just visually...boring. Maybe I was too distracted by the film's apathy towards its substance to accept its sense of style, which really isn't all that bad. Carpenter still "has it" as a fine director of creepy scenes that take place earlier in the picture, but alas, he does not emerge victorious at the end of it all. There were some inspired elements to the films, but the absurd outweighs the entertaining and satisfactory and therefore, I can't say I was interested whatsoever. "The Ward" is most likely to be the most boring film from this year that you'll find hardest to hate. But then again, maybe not; I really had to - and wanted to - cut it some slack for having a few good parts in the midst of its lack of compelling drama and/or horror. This is not a bad horror movie. But it isn't a good one either, and when ghost stories are ghost stories, this one is fairly average.