When you hear the name William Friedkin, the first film that spring to mind will either be The French Connection or The Exorcist, two of the greatest films of the 1970s. So if you're like me, you'll no doubt find it hard to believe that a once great and gritty director had anything to do with The Guardian.
At the start of the film we are told that ancient druids worshipped trees and made sacrifices to honour them, so from the get go you know that someone is going to end up dead in front of a tree. As the Sheridans get ready for a night out, their baby and toddler are being looked after by their nanny, Diane. After leaving the house, Molly realises she's forgotten her glasses and they head home and once inside she finds her new born baby missing. In the nearby woods, Diane has sacrificed the baby to a creepy as hell tree and disappears.
A few months later, Phil (Dwier Brown) and Kate (Carey Lowell) move to LA and Kate reveals that she is pregnant and little baby Jake appears not long after. Needing a nanny, they scour the local papers and find the seemingly perfect Camilla (Jenny Seagrove), a British nanny who is just kooky enough for this yuppie couple. Despite some slightly odd behaviour Camilla is fitting in nicely when Phil starts to have nightmares about Jake going missing and wolves running riot.
On a day out with Jake, Camilla is accosted by three stereotypical early 90s ne'er-do-wells who wants more from her than just directions. Camilla flees into the woods, grasping Jake, and the street punks give chase until they find Camilla leaning against a huge, foreboding tree. Which then proceeds to grab, cut, smash, chew and even set fire to the former badasses and it transpires that Jenny is part of the tree and plans to sacrifice Jake, but not if Phil has anything to say about it.
It's at the point that you discover Camilla is part of the tree and the three punks get ripped to pieces that The Guardian starts to get bloody (and) ridiculous. I'd have had absolutely no problem buying into Camilla being a druid and sacrificing babies to a tree god but for her to be part of the tree was a step in the wrong direction. For the tree to be the same tree out of The Evil Dead was a giant leap off the cliff of sense.
At times, Friedkin does an excellent job of creating some real tension, especially in any of the scenes involving the wolves and coyotes, but this is very quickly undone by the gorefest that occurs every time someone is killed. If Friedkin had made his mind up over whether The Guardian was a high tension, contemporary fantasy horror or a ridiculous blood and guts marathon we may have had a good film on our hands, but sadly the decision seems to have never been made.
Some of the acting, in particular from Carey Lowell, is poor at best and she deserves to win awards for how minute a shit she seems to give over her child being pursued by a demented tree woman. On the other end of the scale is our own Jenny Seagrove, who does a great job of exuding a demented sexiness not too dissimilar to that of sex crazed druids of The Wicker Man.
The effects are very noteworthy and the central tree, which resembles a flora version of The Thing, is guaranteed to make you check our sheets are wet from sweat and not something else at least once after viewing. The film also seems heavily influenced by Sam Raimi's first two Evil Dead, especially when Phil fights the tree with chain saw in hand at the films climax, and it's easy to see why Raimi was considered to direct. One can't help but think that The Guardian may have been a very different and better film had this been the case.
The Guardian is available on DVD through Second Sight from 17th October.