Tuesday, February 17, 2009
David Cronenberg's "The Brood"(1979) is an unsettling and intense film of psychological and biological horror. The movie is about a family of three that is being torn apart by mental illness. The wife, Nola (eerily and masterfully played by Samantha Eggar) is in a mental institution and only gets to see her child Candace(well played by Cindy Hinds) on the weekends. In the meantime, the husband Frank is doing his best to keep the relationship with his wife afloat. When Candace comes home after one weekend, Frank sees scars on her back and he thinks his wife has been beating her. Outraged, he wants to stop his wife from seeing her child, and this creates all kinds of torment and anguish for everyone in the movie.
You see, Nola's psychiatrists' practice is unique. He encourages his patients' minds to manifest their problems in an external, biological form. One patient of his was beaten by his father. When he is in therapy sessions, welts inexplicably appear on his body. With Nola, the anger she has with her husband and the outrage of not being able to see her child manifests itself in a grotesque, unbelievable form. She gives birth through external sacks on her belly, outside the womb, to bizarre creatures that look similar to her daughter Candace. These creatures have sharp teeth, no naval, and no pupils. Their faces are slightly deformed. She psychically controls these creatures...they do her subconscious bidding. Whenever she is angry, they go out and kill the object of her anger, and they kill quickly and viciously, without remorse. The sight of these hooded child-like creatures popping up out of nowhere and going on a murder spree is very unsettling, and creates a sense of uneasiness throughout the entire movie. Frank and the psychiatrist Dr. Hal (played by Oliver Reed) must stop the killings and get Nola's anger under control. But how?
This a very intense personal movie. Writer/director David Cronenberg was going through a custody battle for his child during the making of this film The mood is dark and foreboding. You can feel Nola's pain at not being able to see her child, and you can feel that Frank still loves her. He strongly disagrees with Dr. Hal's unorthodox, damaging treatment and he truly feels for her. Put this against the backdrop of Nola psychically killing her mom, dad, and Frank's mistress-to-be, and the horror of her uncontrollable anger. How do you deal with a loved one whose behaviour is beyond control? And what do you do to protect your child and yourself? What is the right thing to do?
The ending to this movie is very saddening and violent. I don't want to give away what happens, but it leaves you with an intense, sinking feeling that is not easy to shake. This is not a feel good movie by any means. The horrifying, discordant, violin laden soundtrack by Howard Shore does not help. It is a brooding, emotional roller coaster ride of a movie that is not easy to take, but it is still a masterpiece of horror that should be experienced at least once.
David Cronenberg is one of my favorite directors. His movies, in some shape and form, are about the deeply psychological and physical horrors of the body or mind turning against itself. This makes his movies more terrifying and all the more real that your standard horror or science fiction fare. After you watch 'The Brood", you should check out "Videodrome", "Shivers", and "Naked Lunch", three more of my favorite Cronenberg films.