”The Brood” is a science fiction body horror film from David Cronenberg, and is now widely regarded as a horror classic. However, upon initial release critics were not too kind to it. Described as Cronenberg’s ”family” movie, ”The Brood” is the artistic manifestation of a filmmaker exorcising his demons; the product of a man going through a divorce and trying to gain custody of his child. Like most of his films, there was a message to the madness – and the madness ”The Brood” entails is very unpleasant. Roger Ebert labelled it ”a bore” and ”nasty” in his opposing, but much better written review to mine. For many, it would be boring; not much excitement happens until the final minutes. However, with time this film has garnered much more appreciation. Why is that?
”The Brood” is the story of a marriage in ruins: Frank (Art Hindle) and Nola Carveth (Samantha Eggar) are a couple in ruins, with Nola undergoing psychological treatment at the Somafree Institute of Psychoplasmics, where Dr Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed) uses his experimental radical therapy to manifest psychosis through physical symptoms.
One day, when Frank picks up their young daughter Candice (Cindy Hinds) from a hospital visit with Nola, he’s shocked to find bite marks and bruises on her body. He suspects his sick wife has been abusing her and revokes visiting privileges – much to the disapproval of Dr. Raglan, who claims it’s a bad idea. It is.
Through the effects of the mysterious Psychoplasmics and Nola’s ever increasing rage, she starts to give birth to drone children, who then do her murderous bidding without her even knowing. Once Frank states he’s filing for sole custody of Candice, it sparks a homicidal rage in Nola; she would rather her daughter die than be with him. So she tries to kill them both, naturally.
Some criticized the film for being anti-feminist at the time: I see it as more of a statement on the animosity that can occur when a marriage falls apart. Frank’s disgust when he witnesses Nola giving birth to homicidal embryos has been interpreted as a patriarchy seeing child birth as ugly. When he finally killed Nola, many viewed it as male dominance feeling threatened. To me, I saw Frank’s disgust as a representation of children being used as pawns in a divorce and how it can be damaging to every person involved. The anti-feminism argument may have some merit, but can’t it just be symbolic of resentment towards the one particular woman who was the cause of a stressful time in his life? This is not a scathing attack of women as a whole; it’s the work of an artist coming to terms with his situation and pouring his soul out on screen.
Cronenberg’s previous work made use of urban landscapes to symbolize society’s growth for the worse; ”The Brood” makes use of rural settings to represent the isolation of its main characters. The performances from Samantha Eggar and Art Hindle are confrontational and tragic – and the start of Cronenberg’s excellence in working with actors to exude dramatic human prowess in his world’s of science fiction and horror.
The 70’s was also a time of controversial psychological studies. Cronenberg explores the ethical concerns and potential dangers of them with exaggeration, but he gets his point across in the unsubtle kind of way we know and love him for.
So, to answer my original question. Why is ”The Brood” now considered a genre classic? It’s because it’s the beginning of a legendary director finding his voice; an artist at his most open and brave; a filmmaker exploring his own humanity. It’s also a neat little body horror that’s very entertaining in its own right. By no means my favourite of Cronenberg’s, but it’s a feature I greatly admire. 7/10
Written & Directed By:
Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Art Hindle
Horror, Sci-Fi, Body Horror