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  • Benjamin May

The Brood (1979) Review

Nola Carveth is a patient at the Somafree Institute under the care of Dr. Hal Raglan, a leader in an experimental form of therapy known as 'psychoplasmics.' Frank is Nola's estranged husband, who is battling for custody of their child Candice. Nola gets angry and her mental illness makes her unstable around the child. Meanwhile, a strange series of gruesome murders begins, with the victims all knowing the Carveths well. Deciding to learn more about Dr. Raglan and psychoplasmics himself, Frank begins to investigate, finding himself at the center of a mystery that will change his life irrevocably, in David Cronenberg's 'The Brood.'

'The Brood' is full of the blood, body horror and disturbing images that one would expect of a Cronenberg venture. It is tense and brimming with macabre thrills, chills and unsettling scenes. That is not to say the film is without dramatic or intellectual power, because 'The Brood' has more to offer than your average wild and weird horror. A comment about the effects of child-abuse and mental illness in conjunction with parenting and guardianship is being made through Cronenberg's partially autobiographical screenplay, one that is slightly obscured by the violence around it.

Although the murders add another dimension to the story, they take away from the atmosphere of quiet intrigue surrounding Raglan, the Carveths and the Institute; as well as diminish the power of the aforementioned subtle commentary about mental health and abuse. While they serve a purpose and are important to the plot, something a little less sensationalist would have been more in keeping with the eerie tone established early on in the film. In short, the psychological horror elements are fantastic, while the elements of physical horror seem lacking- or even rudimentary- in comparison.

Less rudimentary is Mark Irwin's cinematography, which is striking and stylish work. The pairing of Cronenberg and Irwin is like that of David Lynch and Frederick Elmes: a fruitful partnership with artistic leanings that has resulted in some visually stunning movies. 'The Brood' is a cold and beautiful looking film, with Irwin's use of space and his chosen composition being especially significant. He and Cronenberg made six films together; each one is texturally rich, undeniably impressive and memorable in terms of visuals.

As in most Cronenberg flicks, special effects and make-up is of tremendous importance to 'The Brood,' and Allan Cotter's work does not disappoint. He creates such disturbing, pulsating creatures and attachments that one with a weak stomach may want to forgo the film entirely. His work is on show primarily in the latter half of the film and will leave an indelible impression on the viewer- for better and for worse.

Composer Howard Shore has worked on sixteen Cronenberg films, with 'The Brood' being his first and 2022's 'Crimes of the Future' being the most recent. Shore's work in 'The Brood' is eerie and evocative, though often mournful and mysterious. It is music that helps inform scenes of tone, but never in an overly grandiose manner. For the film, Shore has created subtle, melodically pleasing compositions that linger in the mind long after the credits have gone up and the cinema is empty.

The performances from the cast are also memorable and strong, with Oliver Reed particularly impressing as Dr. Raglan. Reed had a screen presence like no other, with his remarkable calm and brooding intensity, he instantly draws the eye and keeps its' attention. Due to his reputation as a hellraiser, he received relatively few interesting roles or films from the mid-70's onward, and the ones he chose to do generally wasted his immense talents. Cronenberg doesn't let Reed's skills go to waste, and the actor turns in a powerful, reserved performance that will be remembered fondly by any who see the film.

Art Hindle and Samantha Eggar star as Frank and Nola, facsimiles of Cronenberg and his first wife Margaret Hindson. Both deliver strong performances, though Hindle fades into the background somewhat; one gets the feeling that many other actors could have played that part. Not so with Eggar, she is intensely assured and captivating, making Nola the epitome of the unhinged housewife. She is like a black panther on a moonless night, alluring, understated and unquestionably deadly. It is a fine performance of no vanity that'll be remembered and appreciated for as long as cinema lasts.

'The Brood' is a strange, intense horror that contains delicacies of an intellectual and of a visceral kind. Featuring gory scenes and body horror a-plenty, it also explores the topics of mental health and abuse in an informed and measured way. Cronenberg's direction and screenwriting is impressive, while he makes the most of talented actors like Oliver Reed and Samantha Eggar; extracting from them fine, subdued and deeply affecting performances. While it is not perfect, 'The Brood' is an interesting, entertaining film that offers a lot more than your average slasher. If you like your movies on the dark side; it's one you're going to love.


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