Starring Shannon Watson, Tara Ketterer, Hemi Marcum, Sally Huynh, Nick Driessen, Bryce Lord
Written & Directed by Drew Maxwell
Hellboy meets “The A-Team” in Guardians, a low budget supernatural shoot’em up I’d first heard about awhile back. Still unreleased domestically, Guardians hit DVD shelves in Japan last month under an alternate title with the word “Alien” in it even though the movie has bupkis to do with extraterrestrials. I don’t know what the Japanese distributors were thinking, but I will give them for coming up with one seriously kick ass trailer that prompted me to import a copy. Seriously, check out this trailer and tell me Guardians doesn’t look like a kick ass little B-movie. If only it was as much fun as that trailer made it look. Talk about a total slacker of a movie.
On the positive side, Guardians is almost completely devoid of humor or irony; in my opinion a welcome change of pace from so many other similar films that feel compelled to remind everyone how cheesy their subject matter is. It never quite achieves the grim tone and permeating atmosphere of dread it sets out for aside from the dreary production values, much of which appear inspired by the Silent Hill video games. Even the CGI anime-esque demons look cool, though admittedly a tad pedestrian in their monstrous hack-and-slash nature. It’s enough to elevate Guardians from being nothing more than a totally by-the-numbers production.
An occultist villain is using a demonic tome to open a portal to another dimension. The denizens of a small isolated town have become the vessels by which to bring forth an army of supernatural monsters into our world for him to control and use to conquer the mortal realm. The Guardians in their delivery van loaded with heavy firepower are sent in to stop him. It almost never gets any more complicated or imaginative than that simplistic plot synopsis.
Writer-director Drew Maxwell shows technical proficiency, but his script… If only he’d bothered to develop, well, anything. Characters have no dimension and little by way of personality, backstories are only hinted at and the storyline is so barebones that it feels more like the abstract outline of a plot the screenwriter would use as a starting point for writing the script.
The Guardians are a clandestine group of warriors that have fought to exterminate supernatural evil down through the ages. We know this because the opening voiceover narration tells us so. We learn very little else about this ancient order.
The villain is Dr. Strand, an ex-member of the Guardians who has turned evil. The script doesn’t bother to explain why he turned evil or anything about his past relationship with the group. Doing so leaves us with a villain who is just a guy who is evil for the sake of being evil. Even his overall goals are barely touched upon.
The Guardians’ team leader is named Alex. We learn nary a thing about him. Mika, a tough Asian chick with a yen for heavy machine guns – nothing more to her character either. Marcus is a tattooed African-American roughneck who doesn’t like guns because they’re too messy yet has no problem using knives, axes and using the van to run bad guys down. Hey, at least that’s something, but otherwise, nothing more to him either. Even the townspeople they’ve come to rescue are blank slates.
The last member of the group is one of the few bright spots where a glimmer of imagination comes shining through. Referred to only as “The Boy”, he’s a creepy-looking child: bald, pale, with reddish-black circles around his eyes (making him look a bit like Uncle Fester’s “Mini-Me”). “The Boy” was a child who survived a previous encounter with the demons the Guardians have come to battle. They were able to stave off the demonic infection that got in his blood, preventing his transformation into one of them, but in doing so left him in a semi-catatonic state: mute, inattentive, always looking away as if he’s staring into nothingness. Whenever evil is nearby, “The Boy” begins twitching. The Guardians use “The Boy” as something of a supernatural Geiger counter/early warning system. The very concept of “The Boy” is a great one; one I wish had been used even more than it was. The presence of this character also pounds home how uncharismatic the other characters all are. I mean everyone else is getting upstaged by a kid who doesn’t talk and barely does anything. What does that tell you?
The very existence of “The Boy” also leads to the biggest hole in the plot that, not surprisingly, gets totally glossed over. This is not the Guardians first encounter with these particular demons. So then how did they survive their first encounter with these demons if they don’t currently know how to defeat them? Aside from explaining how the team went about acquiring “The Boy”, we’re told absolutely nothing about this previous encounter.
They need to get their hands on that book. Bullets and rocket launchers have little or no effect on these monsters, yet they’re going to send the guy armed only with knives and a battle axe to go alone to retrieve the book. Just because Alex declares Marcus to be the toughest man he’s even known hardly makes this a sound strategy.
But once they get the book, leading to another scene that shows great potential, in which just reading the text challenges Alex’s sanity, the conclusion he comes to again seems so simplistic it’s hard to believe they didn’t already know to do this.
Oh, and once they’ve stolen that book, Dr. Strand then spends what must have been several hours just walking slowly through the woods with his minions to the boarded-up building where everyone’s hold up. Feel free to take your time there, Mr. Wannabe Ruler of the World.
Would you believe this movie ends with Alex and Dr. Strand dueling in a martial arts knife fight of the Steven Seagal movie variety? Not exactly how I expected a movie like this to wrap up.
Guardians may have zipped along at a reasonably brisk pace with okay man vs. monster scenes, but after awhile it was hard not to keep from getting more than a little aggravated by how little creativity had been put into the script. The production values are good, the acting is okay, the direction is decent, but the backbone of the film feels like it could have been written by an elementary school kid.
2 out of 5
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