Lightyear Entertainment // 2006 // 89 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // July 15th, 2008
A High Energy Sci-Fi Action/Thriller Creature Feature.
With that many adjectives in the tagline, Guardians was either destined to be an instant, genre-bending classic or a mixed-up failure. Although it doesn't completely fall into the latter category, Guardians never quite gets off the ground.
The evil (you can tell he's evil from the pale face and excessive eye makeup) Dr. Strand is a rogue occultist who has been experimenting with demon summoning in the tiny town of Twilight Cove. He unleashes a number of demonic entities from another dimension and they wreak their havoc on the secluded hamlet. Luckily, there's a group whose job includes protecting innocents from rogue occultists and their brood, the Guardians. Led by Alex (Shannon Watson), the group of paramilitary evil-fighters must make a stand in a Twilight Cove school against the forces of darkness.
The best thing I can say for Guardians is that it aims very high. We've got the occult, we've got demon-monster things, and we've got lots of guns. We've also got a spooky little psychic boy and enough backstory to fill a television pilot. Although the budget is obviously on the slim side (we're talking used-car prices here), every aspect of the production belies the meager funds.
There's often talk in indie filmmaking of putting the budget "on the screen," by which filmmakers mean that they want to spend money on things that the audience will see instead of overhead like insurance, transport, and food. From now on, Guardians will be my example of that maxim in action. The film has a small central cast, a single location, and a strained special effects scheme, but they're all used so well that the limited budget isn't the most obvious aspect of the production like it is in other indie genre fare. Instead, this film screams potential, like the filmmakers need a couple of million bucks (plus a decent script) and they'd produce something worthwhile (a feeling most low-budget films fail to convey).
So, Guardians is a minor-league film that's aiming for the majors. However, a number of aspects keep the film from hitting it out of the park. The most obvious is the complete lack of originality in the script. Yes, the film's plot is unique, but that's only because it stole elements from a number of other films. The whole "mad doctor unleashes monsters on our plane" thing has been done to death. So has the "secret paramilitary occult order" thing. So while I can't fault the apparent scale of the production, the filmmakers don't use it to back up a story that's worth telling. Also, they seemed to have (or want to borrow) so many ideas that the film is bursting at the seams. Every line of (pretty cheesy) dialogue is fraught with implications, like there's a whole universe behind the story. But, since the only aspects of it we see are cliché, the backstory simply becomes more baggage for the film to cart around.
I've spent a little time around small-stakes thespians, those who have a little talent but know their limits as actors. They have fun with crowd-pleasing drama, but leave the heavyweight stuff to others. The actors in Guardians remind me of those kind of people. They're definitely a cut above the typical low-budget, "let's throw all our friends in a movie" actors, but they're still bad enough to make most direct-to-video acting look pretty snazzy. Obviously they're not helped by the poor characterization and lackluster dialogue, but I just wasn't impressed.
Finally, the biggest black mark on the film is in the special effects department. I can forgive the filmmakers for using software to add in muzzle flashes because blanks are expensive and dangerous, but the creatures look ridiculous. The basic design has potential, with lots of spikes and funny eyes, but the execution falls totally flat. First off, there's way too much of them on screen. Creatures are most effective when we see them rarely, and for as short a time as possible (see Alien for an example). Guardians gives us creatures early and often, shoving them in the audience's face. Secondly, they all look like they drawn directly on the frame, like some bizarre old-timey cartoon. I think the movie would have been improved immeasurably by a guy in a rubber suit instead of the poor animation we got instead. I know they tried, but it just doesn't work and the film suffers for it.
This disc is also a bare-bones affair. We get a clean anamorphic transfer and balanced stereo audio. Extras are completely absent, which is a shame, since I'm guessing this was a labor of love.
Maybe it's supposed to be funny. It didn't really seem that way while I was watching it, but perhaps I missed something. If so, all the cheese becomes more forgivable, like they're going for a micro-budget Harryhausen look. But I doubt it.
Guardians ends up being a high energy sci-fi action/thriller creature feature that's low in energy, action, and thrill where the creatures are disappointing at best. The film isn't painfully bad, like Inbred Redneck Alien Abduction, but that's a bad thing because this film is just good enough to make the viewer wish it were better. There's hope for the people behind Guardians, but they missed the mark this time.
Guilty. Now I need someone to guard me.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Lightyear Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Not Rated