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Guardians (2006)

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Guardians review!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.

Guardians review (click to see it biggere!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?

Guardians review (click to see it biggere!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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THE STRANGERS Blu-ray Review – Let This Stellar Release From Scream Factory Sneak Into Your Home

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Starring Liv Tyler, Scott Speedman, Man in the Mask, Dollface, Pin-up

Directed by Bryan Bertino

Distributed by Scream Factory


It’s a bit odd – though somewhat fitting, given the number of waited-too-long sequels being produced these days – The Strangers (2008) finally got a follow-up after a lengthy ten-year gap. The original is a fine example of a home invasion picture done right, or at least well enough, but, as anyone who has seen the film knows, the leads probably won’t be returning and the killers have the personalities of dime store Halloween masks. The Strangers is a disturbing film in the sense the events seem like they “could happen to you” – it is, after all, “based on a true story” (not really). Plus, the situations our leads find themselves in are exactly the sort people still freak themselves out, like whenever someone enters a room with large windows at night – let’s all be honest here. The only thing scarier than things that go bump in the night is the thought those things are just out of eyesight, waiting to scare you. With the exception of a few “wait, why are you doing that?” moments The Strangers manages to activate certain primal responses to being stalked and frightened. It’s creepy.

Not-newly-engaged couple James (Scott Speedman) and Kristen (Liv Tyler) have returned to James’ childhood summer home after a day spent at a wedding, where James’ proposal to Kristen was sadly declined. They go through some awkward motions back at home, trying to figure out where their relationship stands, when there’s a sudden KNOCK at the door. James answers and finds a young girl asking for a person who has never lived there. She leaves, cryptically mumbling she’ll “see them later”. She does, along with two other “friends” – the Man in the Mask and another girl in a pin-up mask – who proceed to stalk, taunt, tease, and terrorize both Kristen and James until the morning light breaks.

There aren’t many huge surprises in this film but the less you know about how the night plays out, the better. This isn’t to suggest the main characters make smart decisions viewers aren’t expecting, though. James is initially dismissive of a series of terrorizing occurrences Kirsten experiences when he goes out to get her a pack of smokes, brushing all of it off like she has an overactive imagination; this after the weird situation with the girl moments before. And expectedly, once James is finally on board with believing something sinister is afoot it’s already too late to do much about it. Past that point he and Kristen do act like rational people (mostly) and their plight gains a little more sympathy because of their noble efforts.

I hate the scene where James’ friend, Mike (Glenn Howerton), shows up, though. Spoiler alert: any viewer can see his accidental death coming from a mile away. Since it’s established early on James has called Mike to pick him up, what would have worked better would be if all the footage of Mike’s arrival and inspection of the house was cut. That way, his reveal at James and Kristen’s makeshift stronghold in the back bedroom would have been a major surprise. Instead, it plays out so obviously the intended impact is completely muted.

While the film falters in a few areas, it manages to make up for those gaffes by stepping outside the norm. One thing is does incredibly right is refusing to give the trio of terrorizers any personality or backstory or motivation. Viewers are left just as cold once the credits roll as they were upon being introduced to these faceless miscreants. This feels especially refreshing when watching the movie today because lately it seems so many horror films have been yanking the mystique out of things; between prequels and reboots and lengthy exposition it’s rare when a film chooses to eschew all of that. The film is also dire and dour, leaving little room for hope aside from a tiny tidbit that occurs at the very end. There are no white knights; the cavalry isn’t coming – and when you are staying at a house with weak security, near the woods, with no neighbors close by, don’t expect a deus ex machina to save the day.

Universal previously issued The Strangers on Blu-ray, though it featured both cuts on a single BD-25 and used an outdated codec. This new release from Scream Factory spreads the goods out onto two discs, giving each cut a full BD-50 to maximize bit rate. As a result, the 2.35:1 1080p image looks much more refined, smoothing out past compression issues and tightening up both contrast and definition. The lion’s share of this film was shot at night and black levels maintain a rich consistency throughout, while still allowing for details to remain apparent. Nothing is lost to the shadows, which frequently bathe the actors and environments. Scream Factory touts a new 2K scan of the intermediate and the results are nearly flawless.

As viewers might expect, sound design plays a crucial role in this film and the audio options ensure they’ll be immersed in subtle and not-so-subtle sounds from every direction. Both cuts feature an English DTS-HD Master Audio track in both 2.0 and 5.1 options. As expected, the multi-channel track offers a more discreet experience, spreading out the spooky sound design to fully envelope listeners. Thuds, knocks, voices, and footsteps creep from unexpected corners of the room, placing viewers right in the action and heightening the tension. The soundtrack goes a bit overboard on the jump scares stingers but since the whole point of this film is a couple being jolt scared over and over they seem fitting. Subtitles are included in English SDH.

Just as buyers should rightfully expect, Scream Factory has included all of the previous extra features found on Universal’s release and then some.

DISC ONE: Theatrical Cut

“The Element of Terror” – This is a routine EPK, filled with behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with the cast & crew.

“Strangers at the Door” – This piece covers the film’s initial concept and shows off some of the cast & crew working on set, with a few being interviewed, too.

A reel of deleted scenes, three TV spots, and a theatrical trailer, which is quite effective, can also be found on this disc.

DISC TWO: Unrated Cut

“Defining Moments – Interview with writer/director Bryan Bertino” – This is a newly recorded chat with the director, who discusses not only the making of the film but its legacy now that so much time has passed since release.

“All the Right Movies – Interview with actor Kip Weeks (Man in the Mask) – Here, the actor discusses how he got the role and what kind of direction was given to him for the character.

“Brains and Brawn – Interview with actress Laura Margolis (Pin-up Girl) – Just as with Kip Weeks, Margolis talks about playing such a quiet character as well as discussing some changes to the trio that were made during production.

“Deep Cuts – Interview with editor Kevin Greutert” – Learn about how the film took shape, the reasoning behind cuts and sequencing, and what changes were made right up until the theatrical release date.

A still gallery is also included.

The cover art is reversible and there is a slipcover included on first pressings featuring newly commissioned artwork.

Special Features:

  • NEW 2K REMASTER of the Theatrical Version of the film
  • NEW 2K REMASTER of the Unrated Version of the film
  • NEW Defining Moments – An Interview With Writer/Director Bryan Bertino
  • NEW All The Right Moves – An Interview With Actor Kip Weeks (Man In The Mask)
  • NEW Brains And Brawn – An Interview With Actress Laura Margolis (Pin Up Girl)
  • NEW Deep Cuts – An Interview With Editor Kevin Greutert
  • The Element of Terror – Interviews With The Cast And Crew
  • Strangers At The Door – Interviews With Writer/Director Bryan Bertino And The Cast
  • Deleted Scenes
  • TV Spots
  • The Strangers
  • Special Features
3.8

Summary

Still effective only with only a modicum of true stupidity, “The Strangers” might not be the classic it’s been called in more than a few recent retrospective pieces but it does occupy a cushy spot near the top of the contemporary home invasion film list. Scream Factory’s release offers up excellent A/V quality and all the bonus features anyone could want (barring an audio commentary).

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7 GUARDIANS OF THE TOMB Review – Rest Easy, Indiana Jones, There’s Not Much To See Here

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Starring Kellan Lutz, Bingbing Li, Kelsey Grammar

Directed by Kimble Rendall


If it only weren’t for those friggin’ spiders. Kimble Rendall’s adventurous flick, 7 Guardians Of The Tomb is one of those “wanted to be, yet couldn’t quite hit the mark” action-films that will probably entertain those looking for some cave-dwelling escapades caught on celluloid, but for the more picky aficionado of said slam-bang pics, this one might be viewed as a bit stagnant. Let’s strap on our mining helmets and pick around this one, shall we?

Acting as a bit of a search-and-rescue formation, the movie tails alongside Dr. Jia Lee (Li) as she hunts down the whereabouts of her missing brother after losing contact with him while he was on expedition in Western China. Apparently he was looking for a secretive Emperor’s tomb that supposedly holds a potion that can reanimate, or re-invigorate…or rehabilitate – anyway you slice it, the juice has got some pretty potent powers. So a search team is assembled, led by Mason (Grammar – glad someone got Frasier off of the barstool), and he’s latched onto all-American fella Jack (Lutz) to assist this operation. As it turns out, the initial journey is cut off fairly quick when a violent electrical storm forces the group to head underground, and that’s when things get creepy and crawly…like 8-legged style. The film is ripe with some feverish action and a few decent performances, but it’s the overall framework that acts as the big bully, tauntingly kicking sand in the little guy’s face at the beach.

We’ve got love interests, a flurry of backstories, and oh my lord, those spiders! Yep, even the heartiest of CGI can effectively ruin a good case of the willies when it comes to arachnids and their powers of sucking humans and animals dry of their lifeforce. It’s an intently goofy movie, and even the dialogue seems a bit showy at times, leaving plausibility and intelligence at the entrance to the caves. Lutz is fun to watch as the burly rescuer, and he looks as the type who is just waiting for his cinematic moment to step into the spotlight. What pains me is that this movie really could have been something much bigger, and apparently it looks as if the majority of the film’s budget was wasted on those hokey-looking computerized spiders.

All in all, 7 Guardians Of The Tomb is spotty entertainment, even if you despise those little skittering aphids racing towards you, programmed or not. Give it a peek if Raiders Of The Lost Ark isn’t readily available at your disposal…even that crappy Crystal Skull one.

  • Film
2.5

Summary

A film that could have been so much more adventure-wise instead comes off looking like a lesson in how not to waste too much time on computer imagery.

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Who Goes There Podcast: Ep 160 – A QUIET PLACE

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Lately, it seems as though comedy actors are cutting their teeth as horror directors and absolutely killing it! This year’s indie horror darling comes in the form of John Krasinki’s A Quiet Place. Chris has been sick as a dog, so the haomie Christine from Horrible Imaginings Film Fest is filling in to discuss whether A Quiet Place is 2018’s horror heavyweight, or just a lot of noise.

What Bruno took was what changed me; it only amplifies your essence. It simply makes you more of what you already are. It’s the Who Goes There Podcast episode 160!

If you like what you hear, please consider joining our Patreon subscribers. For less than the cost of a beer, you get bonus content, exclusive merchandise, special giveaways, and you get to help us continue doing what we love.

The Who Goes There Podcast is available to subscribe to on iTunes right here. Not an iTunes user? You can listen on our Dread Central page. Can’t get enough? We also do that social media shit. You’ll find us on FacebookTwitterInstagramTwitch, and YouTube.

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