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‘The Guardian’ (R)

By Richard Harrington
Washington Post Staff Writer
April 30, 1990

William Friedkin's "The Guardian" is a film desperate for some bite to go along with its bark. From a director who has made at least two great visceral films -- "The Exorcist" and "The French Connection" -- this is a surprisingly inept tale about an evil nanny and a killer tree that's right out of Jason's woods. Despite a prologue that aims to excuse subsequent plot deficiencies and a finale that's as absurd as you're likely to find in a modern horror film, "The Guardian" is simply ludicrous.

On the other hand, some people may be a little jumpy the next time they go for a nature hike, particularly if THOSE WOODS HAVE GNARLY TREES WITH PEOPLE'S FACES SCULPTED ON THEM.

Phil and Kate (Dwier Brown and Carey Lowell) are brand-new parents who hire a beautiful live-in nanny (Jenny Seagrave) to take care of their baby boy while they pursue a lifestyle of the young and upwardly mobile, evident in a remarkable home situated in the Hollywood Hills (a home surrounded by WOODS!). Baby and nanny get along quite well but we know something is awry when they are set upon in THOSE WOODS by three thugs who are promptly torn apart by THE TREE and a pack of TIMBER wolves. Since we know from the opening scene that nanny is sacrificing babies to THE TREE to stay alive -- exactly how this works is never explained -- there is no particular suspense or mystery except as to how long it will take the parents to catch on. It takes them a long time, and it's only by the grace of a cheap plot contrivance that they do. Finally, realizing the danger, hubby grabs his chain saw and sets out for THOSE WOODS!

These parents are such dunderheads and the plot so preposterous that "The Guardian" never comes close to grabbing attention, empathy or sympathy. As the nanny, Seagrave is odd but hardly scary; maybe she was distressed at having to run around naked covered with bark, moss and vines as the film ends, all the while delivering nonsensical lines. As for Friedkin, he never develops a rhythm and never seems to get himself or us involved with "The Guardian." At the end of the film, an owl looks in on the survivors, turns around and faces the camera. If it had a line, it definitely wouldn't be "Whoo!" but "What?" and you'd know exactly what it meant.

"The Guardian" is rated R for nudity and graphic violence.

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