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THE GUARDIAN
DVD. Second Sight.

The GuardianThe Guardian was widely scoffed at when it was first released, to extraordinary public indifference, in 1990. Some critics seemed to take great joy in the fact that Hollywood maverick William Friedkin had been reduced to making a film about – hold that sniggering – a killer tree. For many people, it seemed a well-deserved blow to a giant ego.

But time is sometimes a great healer, and as I watched the film for the first time, I had to concede that it’s actually not at all bad. It’ll never challenge The Exorcist on ‘Best Horror Film’ lists, but as a lightweight slice of supernatural horror, it works surprisingly well – especially as, by all accounts, the story was pretty much written as the film was being made.

Jenny Seagrove plays the apparently sweet, perfect nanny to a young couple (Dwier Brown and Carey Lowell) who have just had a baby son. However, as we already know, Seagrove is not all she seems to be. I’m not exactly sure WHAT she is – part of an evil tree spirit, or one of it’s familiars (this seemed to be something that was muddied in the assorted rewrites), but her raison d’etre is to steal newborns – before their DNA changes to that of an adult (at four weeks, apparently) and sacrifice them to the tress, where their faces protrude like carvings.

Okay, it all sounds incredibly silly. And it probably is. But Friedkin handles the action with an admirably straight face, as do his actors, and the film is actually very entertaining – fast-paced, with some surprisingly gory deaths and plenty of nudity from Seagrove, who evolves from the sweet nanny into a vengeful, body-painted tree woman with some conviction. It’s to her credit – and Friedkin’s – that the sex scene with the tree isn’t hilarious.

The GuardianThe film plays best – as Friedkin himself comments in the accompanying interview – like a very grim fairy tale, and the visual match that – this film looks gorgeous during the external scenes set in the woods at night – a strangely unreal world that is a little reminiscent of The Company of Wolves. Oh, and if you like to see babies placed in peril (one shot of the baby’s head hitting the floor looks worryingly real) this is definitely the film for you!

I doubt The Guardian will ever be seen as essential viewing, but this long-overdue release does show that it’s far from the disaster many have suggested. It certainly plays more effectively than you’d expect for a film with such a troubled production. If you’ve only heard bad things about the film, I’d say give it a try – you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

DAVID FLINT

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