The Brood (1979) | The Criterion Collection
The Brood – 1979

Written and Directed by David Cronenberg
Starring Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Art Hindle, Cindy Hinds, Larry Solway, Susan Hogan, Harry Beckman, Nuala Fitzgerald

There is a scene in The Brood where Frank Carveth (Hindle) goes out to visit his father-in-law Barton (Beckman) at the home where Barton’s ex-wife (Fitzgerald) has just been murdered. Frank told his daughter Candice’s teacher Ruth (Hogan) he is only going to be 45 minutes. He makes a point to say it twice.

They didn’t find the murderer, who crawls out from under the bed and kills Barton as Frank is on his way over. Frank then engages with hand to hand combat with the killer until it winds up dead. Hours later, after he’d gone with the inspector to review the body of the killer, Frank arrives home and asks why Ruth hadn’t picked up the phone. Ruth says it’s because she didn’t want to get more phone calls from Nola (Eggar), Frank’s wife. Frank doesn’t bother telling Ruth anything he’d been through before she rushes off, past him and his blood-soaked coat.

It’s details like these that could help a peripheral character like Ruth, if she’d like to survive the film.

Even though there are gaps of logic such as this, The Brood is actually a pretty good grotesque thriller. Cronenberg mixes the mystical with his ongoing fascination with body horror (a.k.a. weird shit growing on or coming out of the human form) to make a story which touches on trends of the time. In this case, the trend is psychotherapy.

Nola has been in isolation at Hal Raglan’s (Reed) Somafree institute, where she and other patients work through childhood trauma with an aggressive method of therapy. These sessions involve physiological changes to the patient bodies. For the most part, they look like welts. Of course not all of these growths are benign.

Frank is somewhere between seeking his wife’s return and starting up something new. Hindle gives a somewhat distracted performance as he tries to keep his daughter safe from seeming abuses at the hands of who knows what.

As the therapist, Reed has a muted effect. His presence is that of a smooth huckster, but by the third act, it appears as though he is as confused as anyone as to what has been happening to his prize patient, Nola.

Overall, this is an effectively creepy story that is more contained than his other stories of horror breaking out everywhere. The explanations behind it all are interesting enough. The gore is grotesque enough. Still, it’s only slightly better than an average film.

(*** out of ******)

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