Friday, October 8, 2010

The Brood (1979)
CANADA --- horror/science fiction

Dir: David Cronenberg

Does there exist a nether region of the mind that so deeply represses some of our darkest emotions that somehow it can be manifested? Director David Cronenberg explores this question, in what could be one of the greatest films in true psychological horror. It is certainly one of the directors quintessential films. Known for his explorations into a sub-genre he almost single-handledly created in "biological horror", Cronenberg here searches the mind of a woman with repressed issues and the dangers of opening the horrors of the past. Something that was all too prevalent in the introspective "ME" generation of the 70's.

Frank Carveth (played by Canadian actor Art Hindle) is a father and husband in the midst of a bitter divorce as his estranged wife, Nola, (played to the hilt by Samantha Eggar) is undergoing a newfangled kind of therapy at the Somafree Institute. Dr. Hal Raglan (played by the legendary thespian Oliver Reed) runs the center, and is a slightly sinister controlling research psychologist who has developed "Psychoplasmics", a new way of channeling negative emotions and releasing them physically. The Carveth's daughter is a platinum-haired 5-year-old named Candice, who is the quiet observer caught in the middle of her mother's therapy sessions and her protective father. Whenever I see little girls like her or the "Poltergeist" girl I think of "Village of the Damned". Intentional?

After Frank observes one of Dr. Raglan's sessions with a patient in an auditorium, he's convinced his wife is not truly being helped. He's acquired even more disdain for Somafree when he discovers what he assumes are bruises on his daughter. Frank confronts Dr. Raglan about what is happening to his wife and demands to see her, but he only implores the session must not be interrupted by any means, save for their daughters frequent visitations.

Later, we see that Dr. Raglan, in his own way, does question Nola of her possibly hurting Candice, but only gets the revelation of her deep ire for her own mother. Frank takes Candice to stay with her maternal grandmother, who's clearly a chronic alcoholic. This coupled with the little tidbit of back story about Nola's "bumps" creates the rationale for first victim of the film. The grandmother goes to investigate a noise in the kitchen and she is brutally attacked by a diminutive child-like creature in a red parka.

The police later notify Frank of the incident at work and express concern for Candice's calm demeanor after this ordeal. Frank soon tries to find alliances against Somafree. Particularly in a sardonically eccentric former patient of Dr. Raglan's named Jan Hartog. Hartog has filed legal action against Raglan, who he believes may have caused his cancerous growth, thanks in no part to "psychoplasmics".

Meanwhile, Nola's father is in town to bury his late ex-wife. His visit to Somafree to see Nola is unsuccessful, and like his late wife is later murdered by the same dwarf. Raglan's interest in Nola Carveth has increased as the body count goes up. Soon Frank finds Nola's father dead, and the demoniac creature which he takes to the police, which takes him one step closer to the terrifying truth of his wife and her lineage.

Made in the same year as his "out-of-genre" film "Fast Company", "The Brood" was really where Cronenberg found himself as a director. The film is much more polished in its air of mystery and focused on its ambiguous message on what could be seen as a statement on "Women's Lib and the destruction of family". Also the commentary and possibly jealousy that woman can create life and men cannot. This is cemented in a couple of things in the film, mainly Frank's profession as an architect.

This was a personal film for Cronenberg, who was going through a rough custody battle and divorce involving his own daughter. The origin of this kind of film harkens way back to William Shakespeare's "The Tempest" infused with Robert Louis Stevenson's "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde". As opposed to the latter, here dwelling more on a maternal female rather than a male with regressive tendencies and a monstrous second nature. One problem I have with the film is the creatures discovery. Anytime something even the least bit supernatural crosses with something based in realism like police and news media, I personally can't take serious. It takes a good writer to balance it and make it believable. The score is provided by Howard Shore, who with this film was inducted in the Cronenberg repertory. Having come off of being Saturday Night Live musical director , he makes his first attempt at composing a film, and its definitely not his best. This seems too influenced by Bernard Hermann's "Psycho" and other horror films of the zeitgeist to really standout on its own.