The Brood juxtaposes divorce, anxiety with parent-child relationships, with a story that is basically crazy vengeance that turns to ugly territory sooner than later. Like Scanners, it’s only gruesome in short spurts (some pun intended), and while it’s noticeable Cronenberg doesn’t have too much of a budget to work with, he pushes the seamless, straightforward style to a high pitch; you know something bad will happen just as long as it has something to do with little Cindy (Candice Carveth).
The body and spirit and duality, per usual for Cronenberg, figure in, yet there’s something that makes the Brood much more affecting as soon as it ends: we’re dealing with the deconstruction of family (one also could see this in more sexually frustrated and emotionally demented context in Dead Ringers), and as it turns out by the end things won’t ever really be “happy” despite things being all wrapped up in a grisly and bloody manner. Cronenberg may had been going through some of his own personal demons during this period (i.e. divorcing his wife), and this could be almost like it’s own ‘brood’, a shot of cinematic horror right from the subconscious in the guise of a conscious look at how probing the mind can only work so much, and that certain problems can never be solved.
Basics first: Oliver Reed plays a psychiatrist who is more like a hypnotist, as he performs an unusual procedure in a trance state with his patients to rid them of their past trauma with family members or other by getting it to break out in rashes or hives or even (if it’s malicious enough as with one man) cancer. With Nola (Samantha Eggar, definitely in the highlight of her career), she breaks out much differently, and with full knowledge of what she can do from Raglan. Little creepy children in parkas who lack navels start killing off members of those Nola was close to, including her parents, a woman her ex-husband Frank (Art Hindle) is interested in. Frank is at a loss what to do, but he does know her daughter is in grave danger even before this happens, as she has scratches and bruises on her back. How can the murder spree cease?
At first one might wonder if this also has to do with the little girl’s detached performance, with moments of despair wrapped in a corner. This is actually more of a concrete vision of what the divorce had done, even though it looks even creepier and more disturbing that it can’t be explained why she doesn’t cry or freak out when she finds her grandmother beaten by hammers. There’s a disconnect that Cronenberg seems to be exploring, and even when there seems to be a flimsy way of showing what the hell it is that Ragel really does, or how he hasn’t been kicked out of business yet, his scenes are perfectly ambiguous: we can’t totally be sure how he does it, but he does it, and it’s almost his own worst creation with the case of Nola. But what’s scarier, far more scarier than any typical serial killer or masked being or un-dead, is that there can never really be change to Nola, to the monster that she carries out of her womb (one of Cronenberg’s most notorious images), and it’s a frightening implication on how uncompromising love and hate go together.
If the lingering sensation that this might be far too much of a psycho-analysis type of horror movie, don’t fret; the little mutant kids or whomever are some of the most terrifying beings you’ll ever see. Ever. They make Chuckie look like a Cabbage Patch doll, with their make-up distorted and gray, their expressions always that of something mechanical, and in a presence that calls to mind what they might have tried to do in cheap 50s sci-fi movies, only here done more expertly in not showing much at first, and then showing just enough to get the idea later on. It adds a whole savage element to the picture, where it wouldn’t be if it was other beings like adults that were manifested (probably even just as unsettling as the ending is with the scene where they kill Frank’s would-be girlfriend at her job, which is teaching kindergarten).
Overall the film isn’t quite as structured or paced from the start like one of Cronenberg’s best (it’s not until the first big killing scene, and then Nola’s father’s drunkenness, that the film really kicks into second gear), but there’s enough to qualify it as a must-see from a director who challenges himself just as much as the genre, that there can be some exploration of the soul and the actual sickness of the mind *behind* the usual bloody slayings and conventional characters that populate these movies. Think of it as Jung at the drive-in.