Given that David Cronenberg is often accused of approaching his subjects with a clinical detachment, The Brood stands as an example of the director offering some surprisingly raw emotion.
The story may have sprung out of his bitter custody battle for his daughter but there’s more going on here than simple revenge filmmaking. It’s an exploration of inherited issues and what happens when parental influence becomes toxic.
Frank Carveth’s (Art Hindle) ex-wife Nola (Samantha Eggar) is undergoing treatment at Dr Raglan’s (Oliver Reed) zeitgeist-y “Somafree Institute for Psychoplasmics”. Raglan’s methods allow his patients to channel their suppressed rage, but when bites and bruises appear on their daughter Candy, Frank begins to suspect that Nola is channelling her rage a little too freely. The truth is far more horrifying.
Reed has fun with his showboating psychologist and Hindle (Black Christmas) is a solid lead, but it’s Eggar’s commmitted turn that really impresses.
The film drew criticism for its treatment of the character and an apparently conservative message about the dangers of therapy, but she’s not supposed to be representative of motherhood. Her psychosis is given shape by her need to be a mother figure, which in turn gives shape to her rage with a final reveal still every bit as powerful as it ever was.
The Brood’s finale delivers some of the most potent imagery that Cronenberg has ever created, not just in terms of the blood, sacs, and Nola licking her progeny clean, but in those final shots of Candy.
Extras-wise, there are separate informative interviews with Hindle and Cindy Hinds (Candy), cinematographer Mark Irwin, producer Pierre David, and Cronenberg’s regular character actor Robert A Silverman. There’s also a brief but interesting interview with Cronenberg about how he came to make Shivers.
The Brood isn’t as relentless as Shivers or Rabid and it meanders a little in the middle, but this often-overlooked film is a personal and powerful work of horror.