A young LA couple hire a nanny to take care of their young son but, while great with the child, she unfortunately turns out to be a tree spirit monster that literally feeds children to trees. Can they stop her from… feeding their child to a tree before it’s too late? Find out in The Guardian (1990).
How?! After moving to LA and having a baby Kate and Phil decide to hire a nanny so they can both continue to work. After their first choice dies in a tragic and highly suspicious bike accident, Camilla, their second choice, moves in and is wonderful. They seems like quite the cozy family, you know other than the fact that Camilla is in fact a tree witch who sacrifices babies to a tree. Oops. But at least the tree is super far away and hard to get to… oh wait, it’s basically in their backyard. Double oops. When Phil starts to have weird dreams about Camilla and their next door neighbor is killed by a pack of wolves randomly (for real) Phil starts to have some suspicions. It’s only after getting a call from a woman who tells him in great detail exactly how Camilla stole her baby and sacrificed it to a tree does he finally decide that it’s time for her to go. Unfortunately Camilla doesn’t think so and she transforms into a monstrous tree creature and attempts to take the baby against their will. After unsuccessfully trying to kill her by running her over with a car, Phil takes a chainsaw and runs into the forest where he does battle with the tree (I’m seriously not joking. This is real). He’s able to injure the tree enough for Kate to overpower the tree monster witch nanny and send her back to… Hell, I guess. I’m not sure where she’s actually from. THE END.
Why?! It’s become a trend that the motivations of the antagonists are always much more interesting than the main characters. Mostly protagonists do things for justice or love. Same here. Phil and Kate just love their baby. As for the tree nanny, she’s scouring the greater LA area looking for babies that are just on the verge of ripeness (apparently just about four weeks, according to this movie… which by all accounts in the definitive source). At that point she can sacrifice them and the tree gets that sweet baby juice so it can keep living and make Camilla stronger.
Who?! I thought for sure that such a small film wouldn’t have anything of interest for these categories. I was wrong as Def Leppard drummer Frank Noon played one of the wildly stereotypical punks that get killed by the tree (how scary. I super scared of that tree). He’s actually had a long career in TV and film.
What?! I do occasionally like to highlight some specific plot devices these films use when there isn’t anything to note otherwise (and there really isn’t here). I probably should do it more since I’m sure there have been some hilarious Chekhov’s Guns thrown around. Anyway, we do have a pretty solid Deus Ex Machina here as the film spends a long time telling us how amazing the tree monster nanny is at taking care of children to the point where it would be hard to imagine what would make Phil and Kate decide that their wonderful nanny was a tree monster… apparently a call from a stranger who happens to own a Hansel and Gretel children’s book you dreamed about once. Good enough for me, “get the fuck out of here, wonderful nanny! You are clearly a deranged tree monster in disguise. I have been given all the clues needed.”
Where?! As implied above this is a great example of late-80’s, early-90’s Los Angeles, which honestly seems like one of the weirdest places on Earth. These films make it seem like a totally foreign land full of complete weirdos living in crazy houses… about 400 ft from a giant, ancient tree that a nanny feeds babies to. B+
When?! While we can’t get an exact date from it, Phil and Kate do mention that the baby is a Libra and was born in October. Considering a majority of the film takes place between when the baby is 2 and 4 weeks old, we can assume that it’s end of October into November. Part of me thinks that this is probably hinting that the baby will be four weeks just around Halloween… but that’s just me wishing it were so. C+.
I feel like Friedkin fell into all the trapping of a Color of Night and yet somehow made a less ridiculous film, despite basing the entire premise of his film on a nanny that feeds children to trees. It’s literally “what if I made Hansel & Gretel except set in cocaine fueled LA instead?” and yet he swam out of it with a film that is certainly bad, but also has a ton of kinda weird visual stuff going on (which I can appreciate). Pretty easily the worst part of it all is the actual storytelling and acting. Everything seems to just float along until the main character gets a call from someone who is like “your nanny is a tree monster” and he’s like noooooooo, I 100% believe you despite there being no evidence for this being the case and it’s also insane. Then he runs into the forest and has to literally battle nature with a chainsaw and try to cut down her tree before it’s too late. It’s actually kind of amazing in a literal metaphor kind of way. I’m not sure I didn’t kinda dig it. But it’s hard to tell. Patrick?
‘Ello everyone! For the second time we’ve watched a film called The Guardian for BMT. This time it was the one with the creepy tree nanny. I know there is nothing scarier than a creepy tree nanny. Let’s go!
P’s View on the Preview – I was actually genuinely excited for this film. It was a genre I traditionally haven’t watched a ton of (horror), and a sub-genre which was very weird (nature horror? Religious horror?), from a director who is known for one of the greatest religious horror films ever (The Exorcist, which I hadn’t seen prior to watching The Guardian either). There was literally no frame of reference going into the film. None.
The Good – I think the fact that mid-way through the film the main character strikes a woman across the face and my reaction wasn’t a shock or horror it was “yeah!” is a testament to Friedkin’s ability to make me think of Seagrove’s character as a non-human monster despite looking like a young woman throughout. I do think that at the very least Friedkin was up to the task even if ultimately the film was a losing effort on his part. The practical effects at times were also decent.
The Bad – The film looks cheap, and has cheap acting (beyond, I think, Seagrove). While eerie the film still falls short. First by resorting to kind of gorey nonsense horror, and later by not pulling out the cool makeup effect earlier and instead using the (fairly weak) wolf scene. For something like this you don’t really have to be scary, but it just wasn’t very spooky at all. Even the idea of a nanny who manages to get away with giving fake references twice (at least) from same company where a baby went missing months prior just doesn’t really fly.
The BMT – Eh I don’t think so. I’ll certainly add it to my horror film repertoire, but I don’t think this is a BMT film really. I think we’ll get to that more in the awards predictions as well. There just is not very much meat on the bone. The film is honestly a bit too good in some respects, definitely a bit too weird and interesting, for me to call someone up and tell them to watch this bad movie. There is very little reason to watch this as a bad movie in the end, unless you are a huuuuuge Friedkin-head.
Roast-radamus – There is a very tiny Setting as a Character (Where?) here for Los Angeles. I wish I could say it was a secret holiday film, but despite taking place around Halloween (the baby was an October baby they say, and is only two weeks old) there is no actual evidence of that fact in the film. Does the tree count as a MacGuffin … I don’t think so, because people aren’t trying to obtain it, it doesn’t really drive the plot. The very tiny setting is really it, I don’t think it gets a Good, Bad, or BMT nod in the end. See, the film really brings very little to the table.
StreetCreditReport.com – First I will just say this film has at least some cred. It was on an end of the year worst of list for Siskel and Ebert. So a reviewer watched this film and thought “that was terrible”. Otherwise I can find no evidence this film exists let alone was considered bad at the time. In my defense though, it is basically impossible to search for The Guardian as it is the name of a giant British tabloid.
Good Movie Twins – Prior to The Guardian I had seen Friedkin’s The French Connection, which I quite liked. But I had never seen The Exorcist. So I popped that in and I have to say I loved it. The film takes on a 70s style as you would expect, the story initially just follows the daily lives of our characters to lend insight into their personalities, which has been how I tend to feel 70s cinema operated from my limited experience. The young priest is very compelling, a conflicted man who loses his mother and is in crisis just as he is enlisted to battle a demon on Earth. Linda Blair and especially Ellen Burstyn were amazing. Bringing a religious horror element up against a very (almost overly) scientific analysis of Regan is a crux of many horror films to this day, specifically in J-Horror where demons and spirits often exploit or inhabit the newly technological world we live in. You can see elements of The Exorcist in The Guardian as well, just from a pagan perspective instead. There the modern yuppie culture is infiltrated by the ancient almost unknowable evil that is Camilla and they do battle with what sometimes feels like nature itself. Consider the storyline in which Camilla wants Kate to continue breastfeeding Jake instead of using formula. Nature versus the modern sensibilities of child-rearing. It kind of makes me wish the end of the film was Phil hacking the tree apart with an ax, an idea of returning to a more natural state (an ax instead of a chainsaw) to destroy the natural evil that is the tree. Horror films are great.