Revisiting TIFF 2010: The Ward

In celebration of the 40th anniversary of TIFF, I will be revisiting one film from each year I attended the festival. Please be aware that these discussions may include SPOILERS.

With me have just graduated from York University, I was free to expand my involvement in TIFF’s volunteer program, which in turn allowed me to see more films at the festival. 2010 had a small growth from previous years, with me seeing a total of 14 films. For this entry of my TIFF retrospective, I thought that I would bring the focus to the Midnight Madness programme.

As I stated in the earlier post about Trauma, the Midnight Madness programme was one that I initially felt uneasy about. However, at TIFF 2006 I made the decision to see a daytime screening of the British horror/comedy Severance, which lead to me seeing more films in the Midnight Madness programme, all during daytime screenings, in each of the subsequent years. It was in 2010 that I made the decision to finally go and see a Midnight Madness screening at midnight.

An early choice I had for this first midnight screening was James Wan’s Insidious, which I saw instead at a daytime screening, and in hindsight would have been the better choice. Instead, I chose to see John Carpenter’s The Ward. I chose this screening for the very simple reason that I was a fan of John Carpenter and I wanted to see him in person. However, sadly it turned out that he was unable to make the screening, due to being chosen for jury duty. I also had the misfortune of attending a screening of Let Me In right before, which ran late, leaving me to see the Midnight Madness screening in the front row of the Ryerson.

The Ward saw John Carpenter come back from semi-retirement to make his first feature film since 2001’s Ghosts of Mars. It is probably safe to say that The Ward was a bit of a disappointing effort by Carpenter, who was way past his prime from the 1970s and 1980s. I hadn’t seen The Ward since the original Midnight Madness screening and it is probably highly doubtful that I would ever watch it again. However, unlike many people, I don’t hate the film. As it stands, I think it’s a perfectly fine supernatural horror film, set in a mental health hospital. However, coming from a director such as John Carpenter, perfectly fine doesn’t really cut it and more should have been expected from this filmmaker.

I should probably jump straight to The Ward‘s VERY SPOILERIFIC twist that all the central patients in The Ward, including Amber Heard’s Kristen, are all different personalities of a single individual. The “ghost” attacking the characters throughout the film is simply the original personality fighting its way back. This isn’t the first time split personality disorder was a twist in a film, even though it does seem a bit like the easy way out.

The Ward is probably notable for the fact that it has practically an entirely female cast, with the only central male characters being Dr. Gerald Stringer (Jared Harris), as well as a couple orderlies. Other than Amber Heard, there are a number of familiar faces among the cast, including Danielle Panabaker (Friday the 13th, Timp Lapse) and Lyndsy Fonseca (Kick-Ass). One by one the girls die violent deaths, which range from lobotomies to electric shock to simply getting their throat cut.

The Ward might have been a better film if the horror was more consistent. As it stands, the scares in the film are few and far between and the film is more about life in this mental health ward. I’m pretty sure the film is supposed to be set sometime in the 1950s, which is probably why the film doesn’t really treat mental illness in a very positive light. In fact, The Ward would have probably would have been better if it askewed the supernatural elements and focused more on the real horror that happened to mental health patients of the time period.

Well, I probably don’t have much left to say about The Ward, which will likely end up being a bit of a whimper to end John Carpenter’s great career.

Sean Kelly Author

Sean Patrick Kelly is a self-described über-geek, who has been an avid film lover for all his life. He graduated from York University in 2010 with an honours B.A. in Cinema and Media Studies and he likes to believe he knows what he’s talking about when he writes about film (despite occasionally going on pointless rants).