The Guardian (1990)

Published: Nov 20 2022, 01:01:am

Co-written by Dan Greenberg and Stephen Volk, based on Greenberg’s 1987 novel The Nanny. Music by Joe Wizan. Directed by William Friedkin. Restricted entertainment with the B.C. Classifier’s warning "some very gory scenes, occasional nudity and suggestive scenes."
    Cast includes: Jenny Seagrove, Dwier Brown, Carey Lowell, Brad Hall and Miguel Ferrer.

Friday, April 27, 1990

AND NOW, FROM THE director of The Exorcist and The French Connection, a film with little suspense and no surprises. In William Friedkin's The Guardian, the villain is a tree.
    I'm not kidding.
    Nor am I giving away anything not set out in this empty film's first five minutes.
    In the absence of anything in his screenplay to justify or explain its infanticide plot, Friedkin provides us with the following prologue:
    For thousands of years a religious order known as the druids worshipped trees, sometimes even sacrificing human beings to them.    
     Already the audience is restive. We came prepared for scary stuff, and Friedkin is talking about prehistoric tree-huggers.
    To these worshippers, every tree has its guardian spirit. Most are aligned with goodness and life, but some embody powers of darkness and evil.    
    "An environmental movie!" somebody in the audience yells. The laughter that follows says that Friedkin has already lost his crowd.
    We know the villain is a tree because of an opening sequence in which the director uses all the familiar B-movie clichés, including weird visual angles, fish-eye-lens point-of-view shots and heavy musical cues.
    We see nanny Diana Julian (Jenny Seagrove) steal an infant from its crib, rush to "the sacred grove" and, in the presence of four mean-looking wolves, feed it to her giant Venus baby trap.
    "The cycle is complete," she says. "Begin again."
    Enter Phil Sterling (Dwier Brown) and his pregnant wife, Kate (Carey Lowell). Soon, they are in need of a nanny.
    Guess who gets the job?
    Since we know the nanny's game, it's up to Friedkin to make it credible. Is she a homicidal maniac, a religious fanatic or a renegade force of nature, a dryad gone bad?
    Without sense, there's no feeling. Here, once-talented mood merchant Friedkin offers little more than a crude display of exploitation film technique.
    Seagrove (remembered as the mermaid Marina in Bill Forsyth's magical Local Hero) endures nude scenes and silly make-up to no effective dramatic purpose.
    Friedkin, whose 1987 feature Rampage never made it into American theatres, makes no comeback with his incoherent and boring The Guardian.

The above is a restored version of a Province review by Michael Walsh originally published in 1990. For additional information on this archived material, please visit my FAQ.

Afterword: William Friedkin went on to make six more feature films in pursuit of that elusive comeback. The list includes a college basketball drama (Blue Chips; 1994), an erotic thriller (Jade; 1995), a Vietnam War story (Rules of Engagement; 2000), a wilderness pursuit drama (The Hunted, 2003) and, finally, a couple of psychological horror shows (Bug, 2006; Killer Joe, 2011). Most were box office embarrassments, as well as critical failures.
    Trees fared rather better. Members of the species played positive roles in a variety of hit films, among them the1995 Disney feature Pocahontas (Grandmother Willow). Examples of do-gooder shrubbery can be seen in 1978’s animated Lord of the Rings and the 2002 live-action Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Treebeard), as well as the 2009 science-fiction epic Avatar (The Tree of Souls). Recently a hardwood character claimed membership in the 2014 superhero team known as Guardians of the Galaxy (Groot).