Written by: Dan Greenburg (novel), and Stephen Volk, Dan Greenburg, & William Friedkin (screenplay)
Directed by: William Friedkin
Starring: Jenny Seagrove, Dwier Brown and Carey Lowell
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Tonight, while the world is asleep, an ancient evil is about to awaken.
Everyone remembers the first time William Friedkin put a kid in peril at the hands of some demonic force, which resulted in one of the best horror movies of all time. Most have probably forgotten that he returned to that territory about 17 years with The Guardian, which merely resulted in another movie being able to claim weird sequences involving sexual intercourse and trees. Not an altogether bad claim, though if the film had gone full bore with its wackiness, more than a handful of people might remember it.
The opening title card tells us pretty much all we need to know: that somewhere, there are people out there that worship trees and even sacrifice small children to them. And if we donít believe this, weíre treated to a prologue that finds a nice suburban family with two kids; oneís a newborn, the otherís just an infant. The mother and the father are headed out to a party but are forced to return home since they left something behind; upon returning, they discover that their baby is missing because their nanny is off sacrificing it to a tree in the woods. At this point, you canít help but be a little intrigued since few movies have the gall to offer this up just after the credits (whose font totally resembles the one used for The Exorcist, by the way).
After this point, we finally shift to our main couple, Phil (Dwier Brown) and Kate (Carey Lowell); theyíve recently moved to LA and have a baby, so, naturally, they need a nanny. They decide on Arlene (Theresa Randle), but she dies after taking a tumble on her bike, so Phil and Kate have to settle for Camilla (Jenny Seagrove), who waltzes into their life spitting New Age mysticism and getting a little too attached to baby Jake. So, in other words, The Guardian quickly degenerates into waiting for these two yuppies to figure out that this incredibly attractive, vaguely European chick has some bad intentions with their newborn, which will be turned into a bundle of blood if she has her way. If we didnít already know this, I think weíd still pick up on her bad vibes pretty easily; Seagrove plays her as a total vixen from the outset, plus Iím not sure Iíd trust a nanny whose first inclination is to declare that a ďbaby soulĒ graduates to an ďadult soulĒ after four weeks of existence.
Thereís also that nasty business in the prologue, so these dots connect themselves, always leaving us a few steps ahead of everyone on screen. As such, The Guardian isnít the greatest mystery, nor is it much of a thriller; instead, it mostly amounts to Camilla doing odd things with the baby. At one point, she decides to take him out for a stroll in the woods, where theyíre intercepted by a few thugs looking to get their rape on. Since sheís some kind of warlock, theyíre easily thwarted by the combined powers of the surrounding trees and wolves. Both assist her in literally tearing these guys apart in a wildly gory scene with some staggering effects work. We know Friedkin can do schlock--thatís what made The Exorcist immediately memorable, so itís pretty much childís play for him to dismember some poor souls on camera. He also captures some other atmospheric, intense scenes, most of which take place in this somewhat ethereal forest, which is obviously much more fun than suburbia. Even when Camilla wanders out there alone to spend some quality time with the trees (her clothes donít join in on the fun, naturally), itís more interesting than just about anything else in the movie.
Excluding the final act, that is. The characters have finally caught up with us at this point, so the film has an opportunity to finally go off the hinges. Some movies lumber on after a false climax; The Guardian finally roars up to full batshit insanity just when it looks like Camilla has been thwarted. Friedkin basically channels the broad hysterics of The Exorcist here but completely leaves out any of the genuine, underlying dread. Instead, itís just pure, unfiltered over-the-top theatrics that culminate with chainsaws. If you ever wondered what The Evil Dead may have looked like through Friedkinís eyes, this is probably your only chance (interestingly enough, Sam Raimi was attached first). Along the way, Brown even manages to administer a sweet forearm shiver while wielding his baby; Iím almost surprised it wasnít accompanied by his assurances that nobody puts baby in the corner, especially not evil cultists.
But a wacky final fifteen minutes do not a good movie make. At best, The Guardian is delightfully silly on occasion and is helmed with supreme confidence by Friedkin, who probably deserved better source material. You can feel his commitment to the good, schlock-filled stuff--the howling winds, the floating sorceresses, the sexually-charged fever dreams that Phil has once Camilla seduces her way into his brain. Everything else is hopelessly deflated by comparison since itís all pretty much spelled out for us right from the opening title card. Anchor Bay actually did release this on DVD, so itís not totally forgotten; itís long out of print, but it has popped up on Netflix Instant in the past, so be on the lookout. You might not be able to stick it back on your shelf (where itíd admittedly look cool next to the rest of Friedkinís canon), but itíll look a lot better than a 12 year old DVD since it's in HD. Besides, even if you did own this DVD, I doubt itíd ever make it back off the shelf a second time. Rent it!
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