Note: This is a review of the Second Sight Region 2 release
By the time the 90’s rolled around, William Friedkin was stuck in a career slump of sort. Starting with Sorcerer, his remake of The Wages Of Fear, the Oscar winner was churning out pretty much nothing but critical and commercial failures. His latest flick at the time, Rampage, ended up grossing less than one million dollars during its stateside theatrical run and for a guy that directed the highest grossing horror film of all time, that was a bit disconcerting. Friedkin might’ve just been making thrillers for himself during this period – people would come around on Sorcerer and Cruising over the years – but his name on a marquee was starting to mean a lot less.
The Guardian, based on a novel by Dan Greenburg, was supposed to be his comeback horror film, a genre he hadn’t worked in for almost fifteen years. It’s easy to imagine the level of hype when Universal announced it but, as Friedkin put it, the script was pretty terrible to begin with and, given what the end product turned out like, it never got any better. It’s riddled with clichés and general stupidities, but the story about a nefarious nanny with supernatural motives is anything but unoriginal.
Looking to get back to work after the birth of their son, Phil (Dwier Brown) and Kate (Carey Lowell) hire Camilla (Jenny Seagrove) to be their nanny. Her sweet demeanor allows the family to put their guard down, adopting her into the family even though she takes a little too strong a liking to the child. A friend of the family follows her home one evening and discovers that she’s actually a druid of sorts who feeds babies to a man-eating tree in the woods. It’s a shame he didn’t realize she also had control over a vicious pack of wolves, otherwise he might’ve survived. Camilla shows her true colors after Phil does a little digging and corners her, but she fights back with the power of magical trees.
The real struggle during the film’s writing phase is that there was no back story for Camilla laid out in the novel, so Friedkin and writer Stephen Volk tried tons of ideas, eventually landing on druids since new age religions were hot at the moment. All the deliberation seemed to be naught though, because with the exception of a brief text prologue, the word druid is not mentioned once during the film; in fact, I doubt the characters in the film even know what she is.
Seagrove sells charm well as Camilla, but is never really menacing in her true form. The extent of her powers is inconsistent – the wolves can break down doors but they can’t jump a fence? – and the way she manages to keep stealing babies while living in the same general area without many people catching on is more than a little convenient. But it’s that sort of nonsensical thinking that makes way for The Guardian’s best scenes, such as a tree stump gnawing a man in half and a spectacularly over-the-top finale where Phil goes all Ashley J. Williams and heads into the woods with a chainsaw to fight a tree that geysers blood.
Sam Raimi was once in the running the direct The Guardian, which makes it especially hard to watch since Friedkin never struck the right balance of humor and horror. He claims that it would’ve worked better without the supernatural element and, commercially, it would’ve considering The Hand That Rocks The Cradle is extremely similar and was a big hit a few years later. As it stands, this “return to form” is a mess, but it revels in its own stupidity enough to be amusing in spurts.
Return to the Genre: An Interview with Director William Friedkin (17:22) – From the sounds of it, Friedkin took the reins of the movie because his old friend, Joe Wizan, was producing. He talks about how lame the script was but he charged forward anyway – I guess when you’ve directed The Exorcist and The French Connection, you can do stuff like that –and did numerous rewrites, trying to create a contemporary fairy tale of sorts.
The Nanny: An Interview with Star Jenny Seagrove (13:20) – Seagrove discusses her strong background in theatre performance – which is very impressive – and talks a great deal about Friedkin, who she calls crazy on more than a few occasions. She’s delightful to listen to, but doesn’t offer up anything truly interesting unless you like to hear people complain about sitting in the make-up chair and eating lunch out of a straw.
Don’t Go In The Woods: An Interview with Co-Writer Stephen Volk (20:57) – Co-writer Volk talks about the genesis of the project from his perspective, going over the different incarnations of the script and how Camilla’s back story changed from being rooted in Jewish mythology to New Age paganism. The book didn’t give any exposition for the character, so that left Friedkin and Volk to throw shit at the wall to see what stuck and it really shows. He’s very candid about the pressures of working in Hollywood with “heavy hitters,” so the interview is both refreshing and informative.