The Guard

By Mark Battle | Drama
A man is expecting his first baby. But he's tormented by thoughts of harming his family.

Denny is expecting his first baby with his wife Emma. While Emma is thrilled about their first child's arrival, Denny has started to have intrusive thoughts of harming the baby, much to his horror.

These visions seem to escalate the closer the baby's due date gets, but Denny is too ashamed to talk about them with anyone or seek help. He begins spending more time at work to avoid being at home. But when tensions escalate between him and Emma, Denny decides to take drastic action to protect his family from himself.

Written and directed by Mark Battle, this short psychological horror-thriller explores the dilemma of a man struggling with unbidden, harmful thoughts at a moment in life that should promise joy and anticipation. It carves out this torturous headspace through attentive storytelling, capturing the unique dilemma of an expectant father who feels he must protect his unborn child from himself.

The narrative begins in the mode of a chamber drama, with an intimate moment of Denny caring for a baby. But when that baby cries, he does something unspeakable, distressing both himself and the audience. That scene -- as riveting and intense as it is -- is revealed to be an imagining within Denny's mind, which horrifies him. And it expertly anchors us in his dilemma: he keeps having these thoughts, which intrude when he least wants them.

The storytelling -- anchored by a beautifully constructed script and grounded by deceptive calm, quietly toned visuals -- takes its time. It progresses from Denny's intimate realms of his mind, home and family, opening up to his job as a security guard, where he tries to find refuge from home. Woven throughout are Denny's horrific thoughts, which plague Denny.

Actor Bryan Veronneau expertly portrays the quiet spiral of fear that besets him as these obsessive thoughts escalate, and he becomes increasingly weighed down as Emma notices her husband's odd, distant and disconnected behavior. But Denny simply can't tell Emma what's happening with him: he's too ashamed. And that shame and increasing isolation drive him to take drastic action, both for his relief and the protection of his family.

The disorder at the center of "The Guard" is a rare form of OCD, with intrusive thoughts of harming loved ones. The narrative is a slow burn of psychological horror, but it is most effective in detailing how these thoughts spark off a spiral of self-loathing, which itself feeds into a growing sense of isolation. The result is a quiet but dark storm that engulfs the sufferer, encasing them in shame and alienation. This understanding makes for an empathetic film that shows us what it's like to experience this, pulling us along with a solidly told story and ending with a searing conclusion where the horror isn't anchored in violence, but in self-realization mingled with helplessness.

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