In 1973, William Friedkin shocked the world with a masterful little horror flick called The Exorcist. The film was executed so flawlessly, it became a ‘must’ staple of the horror world and films since then have tried to mimic it’s success, but never coming close. Seventeen years later, he returns to the genre to try and shock audiences once again with a tale about a woman who steals babies and fuses them with a tree. Yes, you heard me right. Needless to say, it was nowhere as well received as his previous masterpiece. In fact, Roger Ebert put this on his list of ‘Most Hated Movies’. So is The Guardian really THAT bad? Well…
Hopefully you didn’t confuse this with that other The Guradian movie about Ashton Kutcher on a boat and are still reading. Allow me to try and detail my brief description of the film from earlier. Some text at the beginning explains that druids use to worship trees. Some of those trees are good, others are bad. Okay, I realize how incredibly silly this sounds and I wouldn’t blame you for laughing out loud (I certainly did). Well in case you’re still reading, allow me to continue. We see a husband and wife heading out for the night, but have to turn around, because the wifey forgot her glasses. Oh yeah, how did instantly improve vision not make the top of that to do list? As they get home, they discover their nanny has vanished with their baby, but somewhere in the woods that baby is being sacrificed to keep an evil tree alive. It’s not a cool Satanic sacrifice, like with goats and blood. She just sorta holds the baby up in the air, it disappears and then is a part of the tree, like a carving. Yes! Marvel at the screen-shocking terror as you tilt your head and say, “Huh?”
This is when we are introduced to our main characters, Phil and Kate Sterling. Phil works for an advertising agency that moved him out to LA. You’ll notice that for most of the movie, Phil will kinda putter around shirtless in pajama bottoms looking mopey. Shortly, they have a little mush of weird doughy, alien also known as the unknown obsession to women as a baby. Wanting to continue their work, although I think they forgot to give Kate an occupation, they decide to hire a nanny. The decision comes down to the film’s only black person, Arlene, or a suspicious British woman named Camille. To make their choice easier, God decides smite Arlene as she rides her bike into the world’s most deadly pot hole, flipping her off the bike and hurling her down a hill like a rag doll and killing her. Guess who gets the job?
Camille is quickly accepted into their arms and why not? She takes care of the little noise maker. Realizing the movie is starting to trot along without any gore, Camille and the baby are attacked by a group thugs that look like teenagers that never grew out of the psychobilly phase while drinking PBR out in a field somewhere. She leads them into the woods where they come alive, not unlike Evil Dead, and tear the men apart, smashing one’s head like a soggy watermelon and setting another on fire. This tree has more powers than Superman! The absurdity doesn’t stop there. Their neighbor Ned starts crushing on Camille in, I have to admit, a rather charming and chivalric way. Unfortunately chivalry is dead and so is he after being savagely eaten by wolves that protect Camille after he sees her as what she really is. Before he died, he managed to place a phone call to Phil, who was already growing suspicious of her. Odd, her references should have checked out…
Oh that’s right, Phil and Kate didn’t bother checking TO SEE IF THE WOMAN CARING FOR THEIR NEWBORN CHILD DIDN’T HAVE ANY KIND OF CRIMINAL OR MENTAL HEALTH BACKGROUND. Although in their defense, I don’t think ‘Evil Tree Spirit’ would have come up. Wouldn’t you know it, none of the references exist. Phil kicks her out and baby Jake needs to be taken to the hospital. Well what a coincidence. Camille tries to steal the baby from the hospital, but Phil puts his Chris Brown lessons to work and smacks her to the ground. Heading home, they find wolves are patrolling the premises, forcing them to retreat to the woods. Bad idea. Camille harnesses the power of the Keebler Elves and tries once again to steal the baby only to be run over by Kate in the jeep (on a side note, this is pretty much the first thing she’s done the whole movie). Phil sees all of the babies in the tree and rationally they try to explain this all to the police. For whatever reason, the cops don’t believe them, so what else is there to do for our heroes except to pack up and move on. But not before Camille can try to steal that baby one last time. I gotta give her an A for effort. Most people quit trying to steal babies only after a few times. Enraged, Phil sets out into the woods with a chainsaw faster than you can say “Groovy” to settle this once and for all.
Originally, Sam Raimi was slated to direct this picture, but backed out early in production to direct Darkman instead and you can really see how this script was tailored towards Raimi’s style and doesn’t exactly suit Friedkin’s. Look at the evidence: The kills are over the top and messy. What should be pretty straight forward and, let’s face it, silly, is bogged down with subplots that seem to go nowhere. What I find really interesting are the type of shots he uses, clearly an homage to Raimi’s cinematography. Especially when we get a wide, low angle chase cam. Hell, the look of the character in the final act; tattered blue button up, messy, wavy hair and a chainsaw… ring a bell? Obviously, I’m not saying that William Friedkin is a bad director. That would be stupid to say, but what I am saying is perhaps he wasn’t a good choice for this type of film. I guess even he realized this, seeing as the TV edit of this film has given directing credit to Alan Smithee.
Having said all that, is The Guardian a horrible film? Not exactly. It’s not great by any measure, but admittedly, I had some fun watching it. The film itself seems well paced, putting in the gory moments just when you are about to get bored, but for such a simple plot, Friedkin does seemingly try to complicate it with unneccasary exposition and dialogue just to draw it out. This is where some good old fashioned Sam Raimi gore would have been a much better filler, but that’s what happens when you rewrite far too many times. A simple idea gets diluted and things begin become overly complicated. Nonetheless, throw on your filthiest pajama bottoms and stop moping around. Watch this one at least once just to keep the Keebler Elf ladies away.
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Watch the entire movie!”