TBT: The Brood (David Cronenberg, 1979)

In acknowledgement of Maps to the Stars‘ limited release tomorrow, I’ve decided to tackle one of the Canadian auteur’s earliest efforts.

A semi-autobiographical descent into the imaginatively hellish depths of one Frank Carveth’s (Art Hindle) post-divorce woes, The Brood offers an agreeably bleak vision of psychological distress at its most Cronenbergian. Single-handedly caring for daughter Candice, Frank’s paternal instincts are thrust into overdrive when he suspects his mentally ill ex-wife of abusing her, the act of which may or may not have been allowed by avant-garde psychotherapist and “psychoplasmic” advocate Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed). Just as Frank threatens to drop the hammer on the sole custody front, unfathomable, moreover mysterious tragedy strikes that prompts an investigation into increasingly violent recurrences.

Although a very modest triumph over the likes of more mainstream fare, The Brood effectively employs psychological distress as an involving supernatural centerpiece. The illustration of Nola Carveth’s sustained imbalance remains palpably authentic as Hindle’s Frank goes through the motions to ensure her overseer gets what he does or doesn’t deserve. Procedurally speaking, the film unremarkably revels in exploiting the mystery shrouding the presence of demonic dwarven assailants, the likes of which apparently don’t qualify as much of an anomaly following psychoplasmic revelations and a rather blase autopsy sequence.

Genre thrills are largely absent despite a tense dissection of Nola’s deep-seated issues and inherent suspense regarding just what the fuck Frank and his daughter are up against. Barring the lack of excitement lacing intermittent violent cruxes, Cronenberg at least tells a story worth investing in if only because of our naturally burgeoning thirst for a reveal. It’s The Brood‘s reveal that indeed satisfies, the auteur’s infamous body horror-exploitative tendencies playing Whack-a-Mole with one’s previously tame (and unnauseated) expectations.

It can be filed under “minor” Cronenberg surely, however The Brood isn’t without obvious merits as creative singularity and authenticity of subject combine to form a laudably unique whole. While not uninteresting to say the least, the proceedings thrive more on the basis of concept, fleshed-out ideas and performances than it does in the realm of horror. With the aforementioned latter act eye-opener managing to unsettle more than Dr. Raglan’s unconventional treatment methods, it becomes clear that Cronenberg’s flair was as discernible then as it is now across a prolific and diverse filmography.


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