Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Brood

Spoilers

Writer/director David Cronenberg describes his 1979 film THE BROOD as a "twisted version of KRAMER VS. KRAMER". I don't know what sort of visions that conjures for you, invisible audience, but aside from an absence of courtroom scenes, that's pretty accurate.  To know that Cronenberg was in the midst of an ugly divorce while he concocted this movie will immeasurably add to its poignancy. Yes, THE BROOD, for all of its blood and guts reputation is at its core a deeply felt drama of a torn apart family. Also, of unchecked rage, depression, and psychosis.

And there is blood and gore. A climax that will repel many viewers. I knew what was coming and still found myself open mouthed. It is as effective an image as I can recall in a film. I wouldn't change a frame of it.

Frank Corveth (Art Hindle) worries over his five year old daughter Candice, who is revealed during bath time to be covered in bruises. She had just spent a weekend with her mother Nola (Samantha Eggar) who is in deep therapy at the Somafree Institute, run by the suspicious but oddly reassuring Dr. Raglan (Oliver Reed). Raglan uses role playing to get to the seat of his patients' illnesses. During an arresting opening sequence, the doctor works with a very troubled young man who exhibits serious abandonment and paternal issues. Raglan assumes the role of the father, completely belittling the man/boy.  At first, we're not sure who they are. The scene is harshly lit, as if we're seeing actors on a stage. Cronenberg then cuts to an audience. Raglan is demonstrating his methods to the public. This is as effective a manner in which to introduce the doctor as I can imagine.

Frank and Candice are reconciling a pending divorce and custody battle. The father wants to make the case that his soon to be ex is not even fit to have visitation rights due to her extreme mental state, as she rarely leaves her room at Somafree. During a series of appointments with Raglan, Nola reveals a childhood of abuse and neglect, traits she may well be capable of passing on to her own brood, er, offspring. I don't want to give too much away, here......

Grisly murders are committed by what appear to be children clad in snow jackets (like most Cronenberg movies, it takes place in Canada). Eventually we learn the pint sized killers are some sort of mutants, with harelips and no belly buttons. Candice's grandparents and school teacher are beaten to death with meat tenderizers, glass tchotchkes, and toy hammers. Who/what are these mutants and how do they relate to the other characters?

You'll find out, if you dare watch. This film is, like so many of the director's pictures, very unpleasant and uncomfortable. Sometimes horrifying. Primarily for the violence but this time the psychological elements are far more disturbing. You cannot accuse the director of shying from the darker impulses that can erode marriage and parenthood: toxic jealousy, bitterness, and selfishness that sometimes even drive these roles. Some may find the ideas misogynistic, and perhaps there's a case for that. This is Cronenberg's side of the story. I wonder what his ex's take would look like?

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