Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #428
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: April 27, 1990
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $17,037,887
Running Time: 92 minutes
Director: William Friedkin
Producer: Joe Wizan
Screenplay: Stephen Volk, William Friedkin, Dan Greenburg
Based on The Nanny by Dan Greenburg
Special Effects: Matthew W. Mungle
Cinematography: John A. Alonzo
Score: Jack Hues
Editing: Seth Flaum
Studios: Universal Pictures, Nanny Productions
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Stars: Jenny Seagrove, Dwier Brown, Carey Lowell, Brad Hall, Miguel Ferrer, Natalija Nogulich, Pamela Brull, Gary Swanson, Jack David Walker, Willy Parsons, Frank Noon, Theresa Randle, Xander Berkeley, Ray Reinhardt, Jacob Gelman, Iris Bath, Rita Gomez
Suggested Audio Candy
Jack Hues “The Guardian”
As you will all be aware by now, there is nothing that revs my engine more than sticking up for the downtrodden. For one reason or another, certain motion pictures are either overlooked or vilified, and I have never been culpable for bowing to popular consensus, thus I pledge to always offer said films a fair crack of the whip. The Guardian is one such movie; named and shamed on the late Roger Ebert’s “most hated films” list, even director William Friedkin himself negated to mention it in his own memoir, The Friedkin Connection. Indeed, the director was quick to disassociate himself with the cable TV cut after being disillusioned by the changes made and asked that his name be removed and the anonymous Alan Smithee be credited instead. I clearly have my work cut out for me with this one.
When it was first announced that Friedkin was set to return to the horror genre after a seventeen-year hiatus, there was understandably a great level of excitement. The Exorcist is still regarded, to this day, as one of the best and scariest films of all time and the great director had already proved himself on numerous other occasions as being one of the most accomplished filmmakers on the circuit so all signs pointed to positive. Alas, despite making a modest return theatrically, The Guardian was universally berated by critics and disappeared faster than O.J.’s murder weapon.
Based on Dan Greenburg’s 1987 novel The Nanny, it was originally intended to be directed by Sam Raimi, until he left to focus on Darkman instead and Friedkin was drafted in as replacement. After countless rewrites, co-writer Stephen Volk suffered something of a meltdown so duties eventually fell solely to Friedkin. Meanwhile, Jenny Seagrove, who plays tree worshiping Druid head case Camilla, was unhappy with the direction the project was taking and begged producers to ditch the fantasy aspect and make her character more grounded in reality. Two years after its release, The Hand That Rocks The Cradle surfaced, proving that she may well have had a point as it went on to garner both widespread success and acclaim. Needless to say, The Guardian didn’t come to fruition without its fair share of drama.
As we have all seen many times previously, the effects of a troubled shoot often show in the final product and it would be foolish of me to suggest that this is without its inconsistencies, often glaring. However, for as much as the whole experience never hangs together quite right, there is still much to commend. From a visual standpoint, at least, it is very much up to and exceeding par and the photography is of a consistently high standard throughout. This is, after all, a Friedkin movie and no man responsible for bringing us The French Connection and To Live & Die in L.A. is likely to forget how to set a scene overnight. The Guardian is nothing if not atmospheric and certain instances in particular exhibit no shortage of the optical mastery for which he deservedly made his fine name.
The story is perhaps where the bough threatens to break. Well-to-do couple Phil (Dwier Brown) and Kate (Carey Lowell) relocate to Los Angeles and swiftly become doting parents. They move into their swanky new Californian home with four-week old Jake still attempting to find his way around his mother’s areola and decide on a live-in nanny to make their charmed lives a little easier. Eventually, through their first choice being rendered suddenly “unavailable”, they opt for the European charms of second fiddle Camilla, who comes highly recommended by a list of referees as long as an orangutan’s arm, none of which are contactable by phone curiously enough.
Where Peyton Flanders rocked the cradle for some time before revealing her hand, Camilla decides to start as she means to go on and it isn’t long before she’s taking naked midnight baths with the infant and towel-drying in open doorways for Phil’s eyes only. When not testing out the elasticity of daddy’s pajama waist band, the ominous au pair is out rounding up the local daytime rapist bikers and introducing them to her own kind of wood, courtesy of a massive tree which she feeds babies during her downtime. It really is as ridiculous as it sounds but I’m okay with that; if you ask me there aren’t enough movies being made about child-sacrificing tree demons and suspending disbelief has never been troublesome to me. However, it makes for a wildly uneven affair as it appears as though even Friedkin himself isn’t entirely convinced of the direction he should be taking.
For as much as The Guardian can’t seem to see the woods for the trees, there are numerous plus points which make for a pleasing 92 minutes. Both Brown and Lowell do their level best as the imperiled parents, while Seagrove excels as the nefarious nanny. In addition to being well shot, there is an excellent scene involving neighbor Ned (Brad Hall) and a pack of unruly coyotes which ratchets the tension exquisitely, while the ending, as preposterous as it may be, can never be accused of being anticlimactic. Folk can be too quick to judge movies, not on their individual merits, but by who made them or how good their last feature was. Remove Friedkin from the equation and would Ebert really have listed this in his all-time most hated list? I highly doubt it. You see, a little perspective is all a film like The Guardian really needs.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 4/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: After nearly two decades in the horror wilderness, Friedkin wastes no time in serving up the schlock and there are numerous instances of generous splatter to plaster over any disproportion with the plot. The tree itself makes its presence felt in no uncertain terms; ensnaring, decapitating and impaling with reckless abandon and The Guardian can boast a chainsaw massacre which would make the mightiest willow in the wood weep as the tool in question is actually used for once against its intended target. On the skin side, Seagrove becomes increasingly allergic to clothes as the film wears on and we get to see plenty of bark before she bites.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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