Thursday, May 28, 2009

Review: The Brood

The Brood (1979, David Cronenberg)


Early Cronenberg is a fascinating period in the filmmaker's career. Many, if not all of his earlier films feature gore, plenty of shock-value, very dark and disturbing tales, but also many psychological complexities and intelligent remarks (many of which are quite subtle, others perhaps less so) about society, individuals and the multifaceted nature of human behaviour and our minds. The Brood definitely has a healthy dose of gore, a particularly dark mood, and at least a little bit of psychological and emotional layers added to the story and characters, albeit perhaps less so than in films such as Videodrome and The Dead Zone.

Frank (Art Hindle) is in the construction business and lives alone with his young daughter, who attends elementary school. Frank isn't divorced, nor has his wife passed away. No, no, his wife (Samantha Eggar) is an institutionalized patient in a very exclusive, very private, and very odd clinic more or less secluded away in the woods, a clinic run by Dr. Raglan, played here by none other than Oliver Reed. The doctor's methods are decidedly strange, as he practice some new form of psychoanalysis which involves hypnotizing his patients into thinking he is people from their past or present. In the case of Frank's wife, Dr. Raglan often pretends he is her mother or father. Frank allows his daughter to visit the mother once a week, but eventually discovers a series of strange bruises decorating the child's body, which leads him to believe that when she is alone with her mother, the meetings aren't always the most pleasant and familial. There is also the matter of the recent brutal murders occuring throughout the town. As you can probably guess, the two threads are indeed intertwined somehow, but I shan't spoil too much for the readers.

Going back to what I wrote earlier regarding the mood in Cronenberg films, The Brood is an appropriately moody film. The circumstances under which the family has been divided, the string of murders that are plaguing the town, the eerie sessions hosted by Dr. Raglan, all this is treated with very bleak undertones. This isn't a happy story and Cronenberg gets that across from minute one. The setup itself is also extremely well executed. The opening scene, which involves Raglan and Frank's wife (although we don't know it at the time) in a psychoanalysis session performed in front of a small audience of doctors and specialists is appropriately bizarre and is a fantastic start to this strange tale. From there on the film wrestles with the 'broken family' storyline for the next half hour or so, and this portion of the film is also effective in displaying in how this emotionally trying and stressful situation is affecting Frank. Art Hindle himself gives a solid performance as Frank, never overplaying the role of the broken father trying to give his daughter a decent life. Oliver Reed is, well, he's Oliver Reed, which theoretically should be enough for fans of his anyways, and he doesn't disappoint here. He's a great doctor Raglan, a man convinced that his methods are a new and effective way at getting to the heart of what may afflict the mentally ill. His determination is possibly leading him to become obsessive with his pet project and very protective of it, even to the detriment of what Frank may want for his wife and daughter. Eventually Frank decides to end the daughter/mother visits in order to protect her. The setup is pitch perfect however. While I thougth the overall mood and tone of the film was deliciously bleak, I won't deny that some of the father-daughter scenes featured some rather stale acting, particularly from the little girl, who seems quite wooden throughout most of the story.

Eventually the plotline involving the murders makes surface and this too is handled well. The murderers themselves, this race of goblin looking children all dressed in children's winter gear, are quite odd and creepy, and while the actual scenes of the murders aren't terribly scary or shocking, it's the aftermath of the killings that leaves a shiver down the viewer's spine. One murder in which an elementary school teacher is the poor victim is particularly gruesome, with her stunned class looking over her beaten and bloody body.

The final 30 minutes or so of the film make for quite an experience. While director Cronenberg is pouring buckets of blood and guts at the screen, Dr. Raglan provides a small hint of what exactly lies behind the horrific events. Somewhat befuddled but ultimately fascinated by his prized patient, Raglan, under pressure from Frank, finally makes his best attempt to explain what role Frank's wife is playing in this nightmare. His reasoning is bizarre to say the least, but then again, the entire film is rather bizarre and isn't making any attempts to hide that. According to the doctor who may be in over his head, Frank's wife, through some evil circumstances, has adopted a biological deformity which enables her to give birth to the little monsters which are terrorizing the town. Her rage, explains the doctor, may be the source of this evil turns of events. What rage? That's where the film becomes a bit muddled, but interesting nonetheless. Is this plot point related to her rage being the result of not seeing her daughter anymore (destruction of the family construct), about being accused for physically hurting her daughter, about her past in which she was a victim of her parent's questionable ways? It's never explained, which can be a positive or a negative. All these possibilities can fit the story when the viewer looks back on what has transpired up until that point, which makes this climax all the more frightening. At the same time, I can imagine a viewer thinking that the explanation lacks anything concrete and only consists of far too loose an excuse for all the evil doing taking place. I'm more inclined to respect the ambiguous nature of the climax as opposed to searching for very specific answers, but what I'm saying is that this is a case where I could understand a viewer's dislike for the murky themes.

The Brood fits quite nicely into writer/director Cronenberg's filmmography. Interesting themes are given the vintage Cronenberg suspenseful and gory treatment. Essentially, if you like the man's work by and large, I don't see how you wouldn't enjoy this particular film. If you are not a fan of his material, than I wouldn't suggest you watch this outing.

Want to read some more on The Brood? Check another review at Bill's Movie Emporium.


Anonymous said...

Good write-up, the ambiguity in most of his early work is the main reason I ended up loving Cronenberg as a director. Great point about the aftermaths of the killings being more creepy than the killings themselves, I didn't even think of that when initially watching the movie.

edgarchaput said...

Those killings just look a bit too staged and fake as they occur.

And yes, I do write incredible reviews, don't I?

Anonymous said...

Yes, you are the best, we all bow to your writing acumen, ya heard!