A disturbed woman is receiving a radical form of psychotherapy at a remote, mysterious institute. Meanwhile, her five-year-old daughter, under the care of her estranged husband, is being terrorized by a group of demonic beings. How these two story lines connect is the shocking and grotesque secret of this bloody tale of monstrous parenthood from David Cronenberg, starring Oliver Reed and Samantha Eggar. With its combination of psychological and body horror, 'The Brood' laid the groundwork for many of the director’s films to come, but it stands on its own as a personal, singularly scary vision.
Writer/director David Cronenberg's 'The Brood' is a fascinating film. With its ominous title and blend of science fiction and horror, genres Cronenberg frequently worked in over the first 30 years of his career, one could easily anticipate 'The Brood' being an exploitation movie. While it certainly has similar elements, Cronenberg has elevated them to be used in a though-provoking drama about a family dealing with abuse, divorce, and recovery.
At the Somafree Institute of Psychoplasmics, Dr. Hal Raglan (Oliver Reed) is in the process of developing a therapy where patients work on taking their psychological issues and transforming them so they manifest onto the body as physical changes, such as wounds and sores. In the opening scene, Raglan plays the role of a patient's abusive father to assist the patient in focusing on his issue.
Nola Carveth (Samantha Eggar) is a patient there because of the years of abuse she suffered from her mother, Juliana (Nuala Fitzgerald). Nola's husband Frank (Art Hindle) is divorcing her and fighting for custody of their young child, Candice (Cindy Hinds). When he discovers bruises and marks on Candice's back after a recent stay, he is understandably outraged and thinks the injuries are from his wife. He tries to learn what happened but is stymied by Raglan. As Frank tries to debunk Raglan's work, he meets Jan Hartog, a former SI patient who developed cancer as a result of Raglan's therapy.
In the first frightening scene, Juliana is babysitting Candice for Frank. After a clever bit of exposition about Nola is revealed to the audience as Juliana tells Candice, some childlike thing, whose appearance is slightly obscured from view by the camerawork and staging, kills Juliana. This incident occurs shortly after her daughter Nola works through her mother issues in therapy. This pattern repeats itself as Nola works through other relationships in her life.
'The Brood' works well because of how realistic Cronenberg has the fantastic portrayed. In the scenes without the sci-fi/horror elements, the actors' performances ground the film in reality as the relationships play out in a familiar way. However, it's those genre elements that make the film rise above, especially the unforgettable climax, which reveals in gory detail the true nature of Nola and the titular characters.
'The Brood' (#777 in The Criterion Collection) is a 50GB Region A Blu-ray disc in a clear keepcase. The discs boot up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements. Included is a folded leaflet containing "Separation Trials," an essay by film critic Carrie Rickey.
'The Brood' has been given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer. The liner notes state "'The Brood' is presented in director David Cronenberg's preferred aspect ratio of 1.78:1. On standard 4:3 televisions, the image will appear letterboxed. On widescreen televisions, the image should fill the screen. Supervised by Cronenberg, this new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on an ARRISCAN film scanner from a 35mm interpositive at Vision Globale in Montreal. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, and scratches were manually removed using MTI's DRS, while Digital Vision's Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, noise management, flicker, and jitter."
Cinematographer Mark Irwin's work stands out in this transfer. Right from the opening scene, just two characters sitting on a stage, the textures in their tan robes are noticeable and that type of fine detail can be seen throughout the film. The colors appear in strong hues, from the primary colors of the jackets different children wear to the variety of browns seen in a number of buildings and clotes. Blacks are deep and the shadow delineation is fantastic as seen when Juliana's ex husband Barton wanders around her house.
The film has a natural grain appearance, but it increases to a very noticeable degree in close-ups of the children before they attack the teacher and of Nola during the final sequence. The grain also increases in establishing shots where filters have been used to darken the upper portion of the frame.
Also from the liner notes, "The original monaural soundtrack was remastered at 24-bit from 35 mm magnetic track. Clicks, thumps, hiss, hum, and crackle were manually removed using Pro Tools HD, AudioCube's integrated workstation, and iZotope RX 4."
Howard Shore's score used violins to augment the tension and became a clue to the viewer that something unsettling was about to happen. Unfortunately, the pitch got a tad high at times and became distracting. Dialogue is consistently clear and understandable.
The track displays a balanced mix of elements with an adequate dynamic range as loud sounds were limited to bursts of music and some shouting and limited bass. The track sounded free of signs of age or damage.
David Cronenberg's 'The Brood' is an impressive use of genre to tell a story. For those who like intelligence mixed with their horror, it's one to check out. Although the artwork oddly gives away too much informaton, Criterion deserves praise for delivering the film with such a quality HD presentation and including so many wonderful extras, especially the opportunity to see 'Crimes of the Future'.