Brood, The


Oct 12, 2012

The Brood (1979)
Director: David Cronenberg
Writers: David Cronenberg
Starring: Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, and Art Hindle

The Plot: The Brood tells the story of a husband and wife slowly being driven apart and going through the process of divorce. Frank Carveth (Art Hindle) is a loving husband who has recently seen his wife, Nola (Samantha Eggar), driven from him by the psychotherapist Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed). Raglan runs the Somafree Institute, a psychological community that is formed around “psychoplasmics,” which is a form of psychotherapy that encourages patients to let go of suppressed emotions by enduring physiological changes. As Nola becomes more distant from her regular life, Frank finds himself fighting for custody of their child after his daughter came to him with some very unusual bruises on her body. Although Frank believes that he is going through a very ordinary breakup, things become more intense as his wife goes through numerous “breakthroughs” and at the same time, strange child-like monsters begin to show up and murder civilians. Frank doesn’t want to believe it at first, but it appears that these beasts are somehow tied to the Somafree Institute. Can he save his wife and child before things have gone too far?

The Review
The Brood stands out as one of the last notable Cronenberg films from this early era that I had not seen. This is a bit of a surprise even for me, since he is a filmmaker that I have a tremendous amount of respect for. His earlier works in particular are the reason that I formed such a favorable opinion of the man. Shivers and Scanners are both genre films that had a tremendous impact on me as a younger viewer. Unfortunately, my video store had a variety of VHS tapes when I was a kid, but The Brood was not amongst their catalog. As Cronenberg left the seventies behind and ventured into the eighties, a time period that would give him universal acclaim, he left one last film to commemorate this decade. The Brood, even at this early stage in his career, acts as a “greatest hits” compilation for David Cronenber. Featuring body modification, heavy psychology, political intrigue, and science fiction, this is a vintage collection of his observations. Yet, at the same time, this familiarity also becomes new, because the movie also stands out as one of Cronenberg’s most personal films. While it is a little rough around the edges, The Brood is easily one of the best films from Cronenberg’s early filmography.

Before I go into the drama or the hidden subtext of the movie, I might as well start with the “superficial” areas of the movie. The music in the film certainly deserves a special mention. The Brood is notable for being Howard Shore’s first attempt at scoring a soundtrack, but it would not be the last time that Shore would team up with Cronenberg. Indeed, the two would team up throughout most of Cronenberg’s career. This first score however shows the infatuation with film and genre expectations that Cronenberg had. With a score that is reminiscent of both Alfred Hitchcock’s work as well as music found in classical horror films, the spooky soundtrack tries to elicit a reaction from the audience. While I personally didn’t find the movie to be frightening, the soundtrack does emit an atmosphere that can not be denied. Sure, it can be seen as going a bit over-the-top at certain moments, but for the most part, the music does everything that it needs to do.

The performances have to be up next when discussing any technical aspects of the movie. While I believe that every performer in the movie does a splendid job, I have to loudly proclaim that Oliver Reed should have starred in every single movie ever made. Of course, this wouldn’t have been possible with his drinking and partying, but while watching The Brood, audiences are reminded just how amazing he was as an actor. A man who could convey almost any necessary emotion with his face, this giant of a man was everything that cinema needed him to be. In The Brood, he is the personification of strength and mental prowess. During the first few scenes of the film, the audience has a hard time trying to gauge just what his intentions are. Is he a man of logic, a man of science, or is he simply a con artist? Reed doesn’t play the role in a way that is easy to decipher at first, but he personifies strength. Our leading man is ill prepared to go head-to-head with a man of this intellect, and his unorthodox methods make him seem that much more out of control.

Standing out as both a positive and a negative, I must admit that there is some very awkward pacing within The Brood. It is neither fast, nor slow, but it instead seems to follow its own very distinct tempo. It is as if Cronenberg is chaste with his narrative devices and concepts. His film is meticulous in what it chooses to reveal to the audience. Even after one hour of viewing time, there are still infinitely more questions at play within the main plot than answers. The strange ideas are revealed with complete patience, and even after the one hour mark, viewers may not realize just what sort of movie this is going to be. Cronenberg teases legitimate horror devices, but he also shows adoration for the feverish paranoia and hidden conspiracies that would later be seen in Videodrome. The Brood isn’t nearly as surreal as something like Videodrome, but it does seem to have similar influences. Cronenberg rolls out the strange ideas, bit by bit, but doesn’t deftly throw logic to the side as he would with his next feature. While the conclusion to the movie is a confusing mix of dream-logic and pseudoscience, it remains absorbing and mind blowing.

At its core, there seems to be a lot that is said about The Brood and its relationship with the women’s liberation movement. Some writers have accused it of being Cronenberg’s wagging finger that is pointed directly at all empowered women. Granted, this is a movie written from a paranoid state of mind. Written by Cronenberg as he was going through his own divorce and dealing with his own custody trials, there is no doubt in my mind that Cronenberg was at a point in his life where he was low on trust and high on anger, but I think The Brood is less about writing blanket statements about women as it is expressing the anger, fear, grief, and paranoia of a father who is put into a dire situation. I’m sure that Cronenberg saw himself falling in line with his main character, despite the fact that his wife likely never broached these levels of insanity or anatomy-defying abnormalities, and I think this sense of anger comes across well and should not be misunderstood as a generality. That is why his story is so over-the-top. We are meant to understand this character and his fears by the supplementation of emotional hurt with the threat of true life physical hurt.

The Conclusion
The Brood is not an easy movie. Some will watch it with feverish anger brought upon by the very absurd nature of its storytelling, but there are others who will enjoy its nightmarish qualities set within the context of a very ordinary horror movie. I give it a high four out of five. With more time to think, it may even crawl into my alltime favorites list. Definitely check it out if you have not already.

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