When the director of The Exorcist makes a universally panned dud about a killer tree that’s only on Instant Watch for another day, you might as well cancel all my appointments. It was time to watch William Friedken’s The Guardian.
Quick Plot: A brief title card informs us that during Druidic times, people worshiped trees.
Cut to the present day, where a pair of parents are on their way out for the weekend. This is clearly quite convenient for the mysterious nanny who uses the break as the perfect chance to take her newborn charge into the woods and sacrifice him to a giant Sleepy Hollow-esque tree.
I’ll say it once: prospective nannies’ references should be checked more thoroughly than pretty much anything you’ve ever thought to check in your life, be that taxes, your bakery line number, or whether or not you remembered to put on deodorant before leaving the house.
Fast forward to a new happy couple played by Law & Order’s Carey Lowell and one of the minor characters in two of my favorite sports movies (Field of Dreams and The Cutting Edge, and yes, figure skating is a sport or would you like to try it yourself?), Dwier Brown. Phil and Kate, as they are called, are forced to hire a live-in babysitter when they decide to rent a modern house out of their means, since Kate has to return to work in order to help pay the rent. After a token montage necessary for any movie with job interviews, the couple decide on a young gym teacher in the making.
Except then she ends up dead.
Choice number 2, luckily, is a sexier Mary Poppins named Camilla. Before you can sing Supercalifragilisticexpialidoc
ious, Camilla is showing up in Phil’s sexy dreams and lecturing Kate about how breastfeeding will keep her baby pure. What she doesn’t say, at least not out loud, is that Baby Jake needs to save his purity so that he makes a better human sacrifice to Camilla’s tree boyfriend.
As much as the idea of a killer tree may SEEM the culprit for The Guardian’s sour reputation, it’s really more the lack of suspense that damns it into unfortunate territory. We know from the very first lullabye that Camilla wants to feed Jake to the woods, which wouldn’t be terrible if we didn’t ALSO know that we were in the hands of one of cinema’s all-time greats.
Truthfully, The Guardian isn’t nearly as laughable as one might expect when watching a cross between The Hand That Rocks the Cradle (before that was a thing) and Little Otik. The opening baby sacrifice is actually quite disturbing, and the whole cast is solid enough to sell most of the material with a straight face. We get coyotes eating nerds, trees decapitating middle-aged punks, and branches wrapping themselves around their victims like an anaconda on Owen Wilson. So in terms of ridiculous killing styles, The Guardian is kind of awesome.
It’s just also…kinda…eh…hmm. Muddled could be a good word. The shaky marriage between domestic Fatal Attraction-like thriller with the whole, you know, woman worshiping a killer tree just never meshes in a way that feels, dare I say it, organic. It’s obvious that there were script and production woes (I doubt we’ll get a proud Friedken commentary should The Guardian ever make it to Blu Ray) and while the pedigree behind the film makes it superior to a lot of rival horror films, it’s still an uncomfortable combination of too many hard to handle elements.
Jenny Seagrove makes for a surprisingly believable sexy tree hugging nanny, something I assume is hard to because thus far, even Meryl Streep hasn't attempted that feat (and yes, that's a challenge)
Maybe it's just a sign of the times, but I enjoyed the 'switch' of having the husband be the one accused of paranoid hysteria. From the 90s to now, most of these kinds of films always want to use the crutch of maternal instinct and the fact that it's more believable for the world to NOT believe a raging mother. Considering how easy it would have been to have Carey Lowell's character blend jealousy with fear, it's a refreshing gender swap.
On one hand, the big thug massacre is big and gory and kind of kickass. On the other, I'm probably just saying that because it involved laughable 45 year old schoolyard bullies and death by dummy
If you don’t want anyone to know that you sustained a gigantic gash on your tummy, perhaps you should be safe and not wear a flimsy white blouse when the wound is still fresh
No matter how many babies you feed a superevil ancient tree, all it takes is one chainsaw to show it who’s boss
When reporting a series of supernatural events to a dubious police detective, you might want to leave out some of the less important and more unbelievable elements, like how the woman who tried to sacrifice your baby to a tree could also fly
The Winning Line
“She has an accent...European I think, British maybe.”
Now I could understand someone mistaking a Belgian accent for French or Scottish for Irish, but…well…I guess Britain IS in Europe…
Candyman’s jerky professor Xander Berkely popping up in the film’s last reel to play a detective
Nostalgic ‘90s Alert!
“I love you, Roseanne Barr,” jokes Phil to his (not really) chubbily pregnant wife. Savvy Roseanne fans can easily date The Guardian by the fact that she still had a last name.
The Guardian is certainly an interesting watch, both for Friedken fans who can’t shake the curiosity of watching him tackle killer trees and horror nerds who, you know, just love when ANYONE tackles killer trees. It’s not a hidden gem or so-bad-it’s-wonderful campfest, but for a 1990 horror film with a bad reputation, it’s not boring to watch. Plus, you know...killer trees.