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Director: William Friedkin
Writers: William Friedkin, Stephen Volk
Cast: Jenny Seagrove, Dwier Brown, Cary Lowell, Gary Swanson
Length: 92 min
Label: Scream Factory
Release Date: January 19, 2015
Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio: Japanese: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0; English
Subtitles: English SDH
- A Happy Coincidence: Interview With Actor Dwier Brown
- From Strasberg To The Guardian: Interview With Actor Gary Swanson
- A Mother’s Journey: Interview With Actress Natalija Nogulich
- Scoring The Guardian: Interview With Composer Jack Hues
- Tree Woman: The Effects Of The Guardian: Interview With Makeup Effects Artist Matthew Mungle
- Return To The Genre: Interview With Director/Co-writer William Friedkin
- The Nanny: Interview With Actress Jenny Seagrove
- Don’t Go Into The Woods Interview With Co-writer Stephen Volk
- Still Gallery Of Behind-The-Scenes Photos
- Theatrical Trailer
For years William Friedkin maintained that, despite all other opinions, his 1973 film The Exorcist was not a horror movie. “I thought it was a film about the mystery of faith … but I didn’t set out to make a horror film…[but] by now, I have accepted that it is [a horror film],” Friedkin told The Hollywood Reporter last October. Regardless of the reasons that Friedkin does not believe it to be a horror film, it was something that clearly had an impact on the director. Friedkin was headstrong about not returning to the genre which made his name universal, and went on for years without so much as even broaching its boundaries. That all changed in 1990, however, when Friedkin would finally give horror a second shot with the bizarre druid-inspired title The Guardian. While Friedkin’s involvement was secondary — brought on after Sam Raimi left the project — his mark can be seen and its lasting impression is worth taking a closer look at.
While Friedkin’s oeuvre is not necessarily flawless, The Guardian is probably his strangest title. From the start, viewers are primed for what’s in store, none of which is the stuff of typical horror films. And yet, no matter how ludicrous the subject matter may be, Friedkin does treat it with sincerity. The opening text reveals this, stating: “For thousands of years a religious order known as the druids worshipped trees, sometimes even sacrificing human beings to them. To these worshippers, every tree has its guardian spirit. Most are aligned with goodness and life, but some embody powers of darkness and evil.” So, yes, what you see is, at best, strange, and, at worst, completely ridiculous, but the sincerity towards the subject matter (treating it as a fact of life) gives the film an edge that makes it surprisingly work.
This is not all that different from Friedkin’s first foray in the genre with The Exorcist. When pressed, many of the film’s most frightening scenes are fantastical and somewhat absurd but thanks to Friedkin’s absolute sense of earnestness the film succeeds without a hitch. Granted, The Guardian is by far a lesser product but it still operates in a similar manner. The plot follows a young couple who hire a mysterious woman named Camille to take care of their newborn child. When Camille begins to step over boundaries, however, it is revealed that the nanny may not be everything she presents herself as. In reality, Camille is a member of the druid sect, and preys on newborn children, before purifying them, and sacrificing them to her gods. The film, obviously, requires a level of disconnect. One has to accept that there does exist a druid order and that nature can be endowed with the supernatural spirit to really buy the film. But, because the film is presented with a somewhat lighter tone, engagement can be a bit more limited. Ultimately. Friedkin makes the story work but it’d be a lie to say that it doesn’t somewhat suffer from its absurd nature.The real takeaway, here, however is Friedkin’s bleak disposition. One thing that Friedkin does not shy away from is depicting children in peril and The Guardian is almost a pure representation of this. He sets the tone by having, within the first fifteen minutes, a newborn child sacrificed. Further, the film is rather bloody for the director who wasn’t known for his gory works. There is a simply fantastic scene in the woods, where a tree not only decapitates one hoodlum but also eats another. Absurd stuff for sure, but it’d be a lie to say that it’s not a terribly fun scene. Technically speaking, the movie is crafted quite beautifully. Friedkin employs DP John A. Alonzo (Chinatown) to great extent. Alonzo fills the scenes with a wash of stunning blue lighting, giving it a cold feel to balance the LA heat. There are countless scenes that are gorgeously composed, with a striking sense of set design, lighting, and shot composition. If nothing else, The Guardian is quite a visual feat.
Where Friedkin’s talents are not seen in as strong a fashion, is in the performances. The film’s script could stand to have been a bit stronger — after going through numerous rewrites, this is hardly a surprise — and many of the actors have a bit of trouble with delivery. This cannot be said for Jenny Seagrove, who puts in the film’s best turn as the haunting yet alluring Camille. Beyond Seagrove, the cast is uneven but nothing is completely out of line.
William Friedkin’s The Guardian is presented, courtesy of Scream Factory, on Blu-ray via a 1080p, 1.85:1 HD transfer in fine form. The colors are super bold and crisp, with the blues popping off the screen without causing any sort of color bleed. There does not appear to be any overt digital tinkering or noise removal, leaving a faithful print and fine level of grain. The 90s were not always the best times for film — with a great deal of films over-lit — but Alonzo’s cinematography fares well here, giving us a beautiful looking Blu-ray. If there are any problems, it looks as if the blacks were slightly crushed during the color correction but nothing to really distract. The print is also fairly clean, without any signs of obvious damage.
Likewise, the film’s audio track is faithfully presented vis-à-vis a DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track. Jack Hues composition is both classically composed but also has a modern sensibility to it that really compliments the film’s structure. The 2.0 track gives the score the headroom it needs to be effective, while maintaining a fine balance between the dialogue and sound effects. The only real issue, which could reside in the original elements, are a few scenes that feature pretty wonky ADR/bad dubbing. There doesn’t appear to any damage such as hisses, pops, or cracks present, leaving a clean track.
Scream Factory has presented a good spread of features to pick from. There is sadly no commentary track but there are interviews with William Friedkin, Jenny Seagrove, and writer Stephen Volk ported over from previous releases. Further, Scream Factory has presented newly commissioned interviews with actors Dwier Brown, Gary Swanson, composer John Hues (strangely, not advertised on the cover), and makeup effects artist Matthew Mungle. The interviews really help to give the film context, and while most of those involved do not necessarily look back on the film too fondly, there is a great deal to be learned through their recollections. There is also an original theatrical trailer and stills gallery included.
All in all, The Guardian is admittedly a lesser affair by Friedkin but one that is still quite intriguing and worthwhile. With some aspects working much better than others, The Guardian is perhaps more of a flawed film than anything else, but it’s also never dull and a hell of a lot of fun to see the director wade in some filth. In ways, The Guardian is an interesting conversation piece in likes with The Exorcist. Both are concerned with the state of children and faith, and both ultimately offer a pretty bleak outlook on society. While the film has its rough spots, this package from Scream Factory is, however, is simply fantastic. A wealth of features, including an interview with Friedkin (who does not often talk about the film), and a great looking presentation make this disc an easy recommendation.