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The Guardian Reviews

Taking the most unlikely bits and pieces of fairy tales, myths, and legends--from Druidic tree worship to Hansel and Gretel--director William Friedkin has fashioned a well-tooled little scream machine of a movie that leaves behind logic and coherence to go straight for the jugular. THE GUARDIAN doesn't work on the grandiloquent scale of Friedkin's past horror classic, THE EXORCIST. It's smaller and much closer to home, involving not a pitched battle between good and evil but a battle between parents and a nanny who feeds newborns to a gnarled old tree in the forest. THE GUARDIAN is a completely irrational movie that works because fear is an irrational emotion--a survival reaction to an illogical world in which the best we can hope to do is avoid the things that can harm us. Of course, it's a battle we ultimately lose. But Friedkin proves again that his movies don't have to make sense to make audiences shudder. THE GUARDIAN takes place in one of the most idyllic fairy-tale settings imaginable, Canyon Country, a rustic wilderness only minutes from Los Angeles, where the wealthy and successful pay millions to live in splendid isolation. Moving there from Chicago are Phil (Dwier Brown) and Kate (Carey Lowell). An advertising artist, Phil has given up his creative independence to make big money with a large LA firm. In one of the film's many funny low-key scenes, Phil is shown at his job interview boldly asserting his contempt for the idea of losing his independence in the corporate advertising world. Without missing a beat, he accepts immediately once he is offered the job. At first, it looks as though Phil has made the right move. He's working on important assignments. The new house is beautiful. The neighbors are nice. The architect who designed their house, Ned Runcie (Brad Hall), lives just up the street. And Kate is just about to give birth to a beautiful baby boy. The young couple begins to interview prospective nannies. Most seem personable, capable, and qualified. However, the interviewing stops with Camilla (Jenny Seagrove), not for any practical reason, but because Camilla agrees with Kate that she should continue breast-feeding her infant even though her doctor has told her that her breast milk is too thin and watery to nourish him. Camilla is hired, and life at home begins looking even more copacetic, especially from Phil's point of view when he happens upon Camilla taking a late-night bath with the baby. Camilla makes it quite clear she isn't bothered in the least by Phil looking at her in the nude. While Phil mulls over this fact (and has the strangest dreams about it), distraught mother Molly Sheridan (Natalia Nogulich) is trying desperately to contact Phil and Kate. It seems a nanny very much like Camilla disappeared from the Sheridan home one night, taking Molly's baby with her. Neither the nanny nor the baby were ever seen again. Attempts to track down the nanny have proved futile. It's as if she had never existed. Ned, meanwhile, has developed an attraction to Camilla, which leads him to make the grievous mistake of following her into the woods on her night off. He's rewarded by being torn to pieces by a pack of angry coyotes (which is nevertheless a far kinder fate than that which befalls the trio of would-be rapists who cross paths with Camilla earlier in the film). But Ned manages to leave a message on Phil's answering machine, warning him about Camilla's strange side. And it's a side that only gets stranger as THE GUARDIAN lurches towards its gory climax. Phil orders Camilla out of the house. But Camilla, with her tree and pack of coyotes, is not about to go without a fight. Nobody goes to a Friedkin film expecting an uplifting experience. In a filmography ranging from THE EXORCIST to THE FRENCH CONNECTION; CRUISING; and TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A.; Friedkin has emerged as a poet of social decay and chaos whose protagonists tend to be losing their grip on reality. In THE GUARDIAN, where nice, boring yuppies innocently coexist with baby-eating trees and crazed, bloodthirsty governesses, Phil's own enraged exorcism is performed with a chain saw after all civilized remedies have failed. It's not a nice movie; like THE EXORCIST, it is ugly, cynical, and mean-spirited. Yet it's also rendered with the same gripping, unholy conviction that has been Friedkin's "saving grace" throughout his career. THE GUARDIAN is a movie that may make you laugh, but, like a particularly nasty nightmare, it's not one you'll easily forget. And that, after all, is what a real horror film is supposed to be about. (Violence, adult situations, nudity.)