(Note: If you haven’t seen this movie, I will completely ruin it for you. The main character having DID is supposed to be a twist. Sorry. This will happen with a couple of my reviews. DID is a common “twist” tactic in suspense/thrillers/horror. Still worth watching in my opinion, but this is my warning for you if you do care.)
(Note 2: Trigger warning for some frank clinical discussion of self-harm. Nothing graphic.)
Rating: 3.5 Stars (out of a possible 5)
The plot of The Ward is a bit confusing. At its most basic, the premise is a young woman named Kristen is found in front of a burning farmhouse by police and taken to a psychiatric hospital for treatment, as it appears she lit the farmhouse on fire herself (and possibly injured people?).
I will preface this by saying I am a rather large fan of John Carpenter. And I must give him props for using a common horror trope in a way that didn’t completely offend me like most DID thriller/horror movies. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
As I said before, since I’m dissecting this movie for how it pertains to Dissociative Identity Disorder (or the ol’ title of Multiple Personality Disorder, as it’s referred to in this movie) there will be spoilers ahead. I watched this movie twice so that I could more deeply react to the little “clues” and techniques used knowing that “Kristen” is physically by herself during her stay in the the ward, not accompanied by a couple other young woman, as shown to the audience initially. It’s done decently well. Although I’ll say as a avid fan/student of both the horror genre and someone with DID personally, I recognized what was going on with Kristen pretty early on. The other staff did not interact with the other girls (alters). With the exception of the main therapist/psychiatrist, who does address multiple alters. But only in counseling sessions. And it’s done in such a way that a multiple can tell he’s addressing a multiple.
Now to dissect.
#1 No psychopathic killers- STILL a horror movie!
I truly enjoyed this movie for being the only thriller/horror I’ve ever seen to feature a person diagnosed with DID that did not kill or murder others. The violence in the movie is entirely self-harm related. And handled rather cleverly, if more Hollywood-tized that us average multiple systems, obviously.
The strife between alters is more dramatically violent than my personal systems’ experience, but there could be some argument made that Kristen’s system merely manifests the internal strife and memory/abuse issues differently. The main conflict is that the original personality (Alice) is upset by the alters and doesn’t want them around. The alters, in their fear of being destroyed, have tried repressing (“killed”) the original personality so that they could continue their existence. Though an extreme reaction, I find it realistic in the movie because the therapist was encouraging Alice to “get rid” of the alters. Almost like an “integration” as opposed to co-conscious to function in day-to-day activities.
But Alice wasn’t truly destroyed and she starts trying to fight back against the alters; they start disappearing. Again, extreme for a normal system, but it is a movie. And a horror movie. Still more legit in my opinion than someone like Norman Bates and his alter killing young women regularly.
#2 The alters/personalities
I must say I really enjoy the actual characters themselves. I think they did a good job trying to address a lot of the common archetypes systems tend to develop. I do have one major nitpick, but I’ll get to that in the next section. Mainly though, I could find parts of my own system in the archetypes they had. Unlike United States of Tara, where the personalities are sort of more just these “fun quirky characters” like “housewife” and “redneck” that sometimes serve the more standard coping mechanism of a system (like Buck acting as a protector alter at times), the alters in Alice’s system seem to serve a more standard DID system function.
#3 Self-harm actually addressed
A sensitive topic, of course, but one that is rarely actually referenced in the media’s interpretation of DID. But in “The Ward” it’s addressed not in one, but two ways! There’s the more standard self-harming alter (Emily) who has self-harm scars on her arm. The sassy Sarah ribs Emily about them derisively, reminding me of my own Rika’s scoffing at the self-harming alters in my system.
But there’s also moments where Alice or Kristen is seemingly attacking/harming another alter, but when the “twist” of DID is revealed to the audience, we can see that they’re truly just harming themselves. Sort of like “Fight Club”. It appears to Kristen that she’s in a brawl with Alice when what the hospital staff is seeing is her throwing herself at the ground and window, cutting and hurting herself. A bit dramatic, yes, but I know I’ve had minor versions of such issues myself.
#1 All beautiful young perfect white women
Okay. I get that a lot of systems’ alters tend to reflect the body’s physical attributes, to a degree. But I know I have some with dramatic weight/coloration/height differences, some with dramatically different ages, and a couple with different gender attributes. I was disappointed that “The Ward” had all of Alice’s alters as young, beautiful slim white women. Even the little-alter, Zoey, is obviously no younger than 16 (and that’s pushing it), her “little” status more addressed by the addition of childish pigtails and a stuffed animal she babies constantly. The only real difference was hair color. Different hair colors does not diversity make.
#2 Therapy is maaaybe evil
This one I’m a little more torn on. Mostly because personally, I’m hugely against the whole idea of destroying parts of a system for integration or a similar prognosis. But I do give this movie’s therapist some credit for dissuading the nurse from dosing Alice for no reason at times, and for listening to each alter as much as possible. If his goal had been co-conciousness and trying to have the alters respect each other rather than “beat” each other until the strongest is left standing, then I would respect it much more.
Also they use freakin’ electroshock-therapy at one point. Granted, the movie takes place in the 1960s, but still. Not cool.
#3 DID is still technically the villain
Okay. I did say I respect this movie more than the average DID horror because the protagonist, despite having DID, is not a murderer/killer. She was abused as a child and splintered and now is still having trouble coping. However, by the end of the movie, DID is still clearly a villain. The goal is to “cure” Alice of it. She obviously couldn’t possibly function in society without it. The violence of the movie is caused by the alters’ fear of being destroyed by Alice, which is encouraged by their therapist. This movie definitely doesn’t have DID coming out smelling remotely rose-like.
United States of Tara still does a better job of trying to de-villify it more than the average media attempt. Which is disappointing, because if “The Ward” had ended with the alters finding common ground and deciding to unite against the stress/introject of the abuse instead of the origin personality of Alice, I would have given this a full 5 stars for merely doing something a movie never has. Vilifying DID.
But we are still the villain.
And that is sad to see.