Transformation has always been a favorite theme of David Cronenberg, and The Brood is no exception. The film, first released in 1979, centers on a young family (Frank, Nola and their young daughter, Candace) that is going through a period of change. Frank and Nola are newly divorced, and Nola is undergoing a controversial, experimental treatment program under the care of a mysterious doctor essayed by Oliver Reed. When Candace returns to her father covered in scratches and bruises after visiting Nola, Frank begins to dig a little deeper into his ex-wife’s therapy. Complicating matters greatly is a series of murders, beginning with Nola’s mother, that seem directed at anyone who has crossed Nola in the past; murders that only Candace is a witness to.
The murders are carried out by small, dwarflike creatures that, at first glance, resemble deformed children. They are, in fact, the product of Nola’s therapy – a physical manifestation of her rage. Reed is keeping these children locked away at his compound for further study, but it appears that he needs some better locks – the children keep escaping, and people keep dying.
The Brood is more complex and thought provoking than most genre fare, but it maintains a solid pace that, while a bit slow, is never dull. The murders are shocking, particularly the death of a teacher that happens in the midst of many of her young students. (I can only imagine what the parents of those young actors must have thought when they got their first call sheet.) And it features one of the most gruesome birth scenes I’ve ever seen – not surprising if you’ve seen a lot of Cronenberg movies, but I can’t help but wonder how this played early in his career. It’s truly unsettling and, although it’s a quick scene, it’s difficult to watch.
This is one of those movies that lends itself to lots of critical examination, and for those interested in that sort of thing, there’s plenty available via Google. I’m going to keep this on a surface level, though. The Brood is sometimes ponderous, but the ideas are engaging enough to tide you over until the second act kicks in. Once it gets going, it’s a very effective chiller. Recommended.