The Ward (2010) Deja Vue All Over Again

I was really excited to see that John Carpenter had made a new film. This is his first full length feature since he made the mediocre Ghosts of Mars (2001) and by anybodies reckoning nine years is a long time between films. The films release was not well received by critics who generally mauled the film. I imagine John is wondering why he came back.

The films cast is well rounded with actors that have pedigrees to be proud of. Main protagonist Kristen is played by Amber Heard (who made such a big splash in All the Boys Love Mandy Lane ) and her psychiatric nemesis, Dr Stringer is played by Jared Harris (who sounds so much like his father Richard that it is almost disturbing).  The rest of the cast includes Lyndsy Fonseca fresh form the brilliant Kick Ass, Mamie GummerDanielle PanabakerLaura-LeighMika Boorem all actors with a list of credits as long as your arm.

The “Readers Digest” version of the plot is as follows:

A Girl is hiding   in the woods wearing a slip and house slippers. A police car is in the area answering a call. The girl runs from the police and sets a house on fire. The police catch her and she is put into an insane asylum.  We find out her name is Kristen and she  is placed in a room that the previous occupant vanished from. Her first night in the room something steals her blanket while she is sleeping and she finds a broken bracelet that spells the name Alice. The next day she meets the other five  occupants of the mental ward. What follows is a series of scenes where Kristen bonds with her ward-mates, interacts with Dr Stringer and repeatedly tries to escape.

Several short scenes show a pre-pubescent girl in chains who is about to be sexually abused by a large bearded man. intermixed with all this is the appearance of a gruesome looking wraith who is dispatching the ward occupants in very nasty ways. We also find out that Dr Stringer is using some sort of ‘new’ treatment on the girls in the ward. The wraith we find out is a previous girl from the ward that no one will talk about initially. The girls finally reveal that her name is Alice and they all killed her, because she was mean. With the dead Alice busily wreaking revenge on her killers, the six occupants of the ward have now been whittled down to just Kristen and Zoey and together they make one last bid for freedom.

I enjoyed the film but I could never really get invested in it. It felt more like a mystery thriller than your bog standard horror film. The “plot twist” at the end of the film was good enough, but unfortunately it has been done before. Comparisons to Shutter Island have been made and I can see why but, I felt, however, that the film had more in common with the 2003 film Identity. It is not a stretch to say the film is perhaps a mix of the two.

There were very few ‘jump’ moments in the film. The times I did jump had more to do with the sound being so loud versus the action being so scary. The interaction between Kristen and her ward mates was good, but not terrific by any means. I did like the scenes between Dr Stringer and Kristen. Stringer always made me feel uneasy. As the audience we don’t trust Stringer and question his motives. He comes across as a caring sensitive man one moment only to turn into a figure of apparent cruelty.

The cinematography is good and the FX on the wraith was superb. The hands alone were quite possibly the creepiest thing about the entire film. Over all, I felt the film was missing something. Perhaps it is because this has been ” a horror weekend.” My daughter and I have been glutting ourselves on three horror films and one science fiction film.

In all honesty, all the films have ‘brought something to the table’ but Carpenters film did not quite deliver. I have no idea why he decided to wait nine years before making another film, but, I don’t feel as though the break improved his film making capabilities. It is a shame that the last film he made before his break garnered the same sort of reception that his most recent film has.

The film is worth a look, if for no other reason than to admire the talented cast’s performances. Just don’t expect to be too surprised by the films ‘twist’ ending.

The Thing (2011)- A Prequel? Only at the End.

After putting it off far too long, I finally watched the “prequel re-make” of John Carpenter’s The Thing. At the end of the film I found myself asking only one question.

Why?

Now I will be the first to admit that Carpenter’s The Thing is itself a re-make. Christian Nyby and Howard Hawks first brought the film to the big screen in 1951. It featured James Arness (who does indeed look like a giant carrot as suggested by author Stephen King) heavily made up and very unfriendly. The creature is dispatched at the end of the film via an electric sidewalk.

John Carpenter re-imagined the film in 1982 and it became a classic. Brooding, suspenseful and menacing, it set the standard for economically telling a story and creating characters you could form a bond with. It was suitably scary with moments of genuine humour. In fact I would go as far as to suggest that Carpenter’s The Thing should be used as a template on how to make a good film. *I would also add  James Cameron’s Terminator 2 to that very short list*

Now we have the “prequel” The Thing 2011.  I will say that the special effects were beyond spectacular. Sadly, that is the  only good thing I can bring myself to say about the film. Despite the fact that the director and the producers set the pacing of the film at breakneck speed, I did not care about any of it.

The characters were not even two dimensional creations. They all appeared to be one dimensional filler. No one, apart from Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s character, had a clear cut “job” in the film.  Winstead was supposed to be the “heroine,” yet her character was so lacklustre and flat that I found myself not really caring whether she lived, died, or defeated the alien.

Every other character in the film seemed to be used to fill one or two functions. I can envision the director saying, “Right we need a large cast that an alien needs to chew through. We also need enough people that we can group one bunch as victims and one bunch as aliens. Since that really is all they are going to be doing, we won’t bother with giving them specific things to do in the film.”

Yes, the film did zoom along. Like a runaway train it sped to the conclusion, to it’s detriment.  The script had so many holes, gaps and glaring omissions that I am actually amazed that it managed to run for an entire 103 minutes. But, having said that, the film felt much longer.

I will say that the last bit of the film – the “teaser-like” flashes we the audience got intermixed with the end credits – did indeed fill the bill as a prequel. Sadly, it was really the only part of the film that I got anywhere near excited about.

So my final verdict about the film? Great FX! Mediocre characters and performances with the only real prequel being at the end of the film. I am so glad I did not see this at the cinema.

I would have asked for my money back.