Monday, November 17, 2008

The Brood

Dir. - David Cronenberg

Sean viewed this one From the Couch:

[The Brood is one of those films that really cannot be discussed without talking about what we learn in the final ten minutes of the film - so expect spoilers. Suffice to say, it is a great little psycho-horror film by David Cronenberg that any fan of his should not hesitate to see.]

To continue with our recent divergence into horror films, we'd like to draw your attention to David Cronenberg's 1979 feature The Brood. A film about one hell of a dysfunctional family featuring a mother that ranks up there with Lady Macbeth and Medea in the category of Worst Mom Ever. Nola, played an effectively spooky Samantha Egger, is receiving treatment by Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed), a doctor specializing in "psychoplasmics" -- which involves patients being isolated from the rest of the world in his compound while he treats them by taking on the roles of family members and working through their problems by bringing all their negative emotions to the surface. The ads for Psychoplasmics should warn patients of various side effects including the manifesting of multiple legions, sores, lymphatic cancer, and the production of homicidal mutant five year olds from an asexual sac. Some might say that Psychoplasmics is a bunch of new age hoo-ha, but you can't really argue with those kinds of results -- the parthenogenesis means it's working!

The movie begins as Nola's husband Frank (Art Hindle) picks up his daughter from a weekend visit at Dr. Raglan's and comes home to find scratches and bite marks on his five year old and begins to wonder what's going on at the mysterious facility. Frank immediately thinks his cuckoo wife has been abusing the child, refuses further weekend visits and shows this evidence to his lawyer. But soon Nola's parents start showing up beaten to death and Frank nearly gets a fancy paperweight driven into his head by a very angry little person without a belly button and soon enough Frank is drawing the connection between his wife's rage and the mutant killers.

Cronenberg had been through his own custody battle over his daughter before making this film and it's easy to look at The Brood as Kramer vs. Kramer with more bludgeoning and trauma. But just as present is Cronenberg's ongoing discussion of the limitless human. It's frightening enough that acne breakouts, eczema, ulcers and worse are linked to stress and a person's mental state, so to base a horror movie on the subject is perfect and it's a testament to his vision that he makes what could have been an unintentionally hilarious premise into something brilliantly disturbing. Having little people dressed up like Kenny from South Park jumping out of corners with hammer in hand should be knee slapping, funny stuff and while it is audacious enough to make the movie fun to watch it's a Cronenberg movie, and therefor has every second soaked in dread and unease even in the most mundane of moments.

It's worth noting that The Brood represents Cronenberg's first collaboration with Howard Shore, who went on to score all but one of his films since as well as many of the creepier Demme, Scorcese and Fincher movies of the past 25 years (as well as those hobbit movies). Unlike Spielberg's ongoing collaboration with John Williams, Shore has yet to become a liability. Shore compliments his movies with expert technique, sometimes playfully prodding as he does in The Brood but never as overbearingly abusive as Williams can get.

I'm almost ashamed to admit it's taken me this long to see The Brood. Maybe the lack of fun I had with Rabid scared me off of pre-Scanners Cronenberg. Whatever the reason, this is clearly his first great movie and if it weren't for the amazing performances in Scanners, I'd say it might even be better than that classic. While there's nothing bad about Hindle, Reed or Egger, there's nothing approaching the gonzo performance Powers Boothe gives in Scanners. Hindle was surprisingly good given I'd never really noticed him in any of the other work he's done, but like everyone else in The Brood, he doesn't do much to make Frank stand out from being a rather broad characterization.

Seeing The Brood now of course brings up the argument, or rather the complaint, about Cronenberg moving away from this sort of "body horror" that he became so closely associated with through the 80's and 90's. Films like Videodrome, The Fly, Crash, eXistenZ and terms like "the new flesh" and images like plugging a video game into a sphincter leading to your spinal cord are all deliriously rich and wondrously subversive, unique worlds to get lost in -- the kind of films that only a handful of people like David Lynch, Takashi Miike and Terry Gilliam have the wherewithal to achieve. So of course it can be disheartening to see Cronenberg move away from this sort of material -- it's like hearing George Lucas is going to do a personal, non-sci-fi movie. Oh wait, you know what, that would be fantastic. Truth is, I don't get people whining about this sort of nonsense. You'd think these directors are on their death bed and the next movie will be their last. Put yourself in their shoes -- would you be happy being stuck in one genre for your entire career? All these directors that people fret about are successful directors that have control over their own careers -- there are decisions that they are making because they want to make these films. Either you like a director or you don't or you have no opinion. Why wouldn't you just be happy that someone you like is making a new movie? I think it's completely rediculous to complain about the path someone wants to take. To think that a critic or a fanboy has a better sense of judgment than the person that's been making these great films is frighteningly pompous bullshit. David Lynch made one of the best film of his career about a guy riding a lawnmower for a few days and it was rated G. Here's to more directors shifting gears and doing projects outside their comfort zone. Even though I wasn't a big a fan of History of Violence as some people were, Eastern Promises is still my favorite movie of '07 on most days and I look forward to whatever Cronenberg has in store.



Padraic said...

Nice review. I saw The Brood, but not much to add here. My only comments would be a semi-serious criticism of the misogyny off the film.I felt the angelic father and the demonic mother was an embarrassment of character.

However, it's probably an accurate reflection of how Cronenberg viewed his own divorce and, as such, is a wonderful insight into self-delusion.

But agreed on all the fun that was had.

Padraic said...

Er, I should add that maybe it wasn't completely in Cronenberg's mind, as the talk a few weeks back mentioned his first wife really did join a cult.

Still, tying the evil emotions to a women's reproductive system is messed up.

I also remember thinking the movie had some good parts, but a lot of filler. The whole Robert Silverman stuff was pointless, and it felt stretched out - enough anyway, so I wouldn't call it a classic.