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.
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
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