The Principles: David Cronenberg (Writer/Director). Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, Art Hindle, Henry Beckman.
The Premise: A woman, having trouble dealing with her crumbling marriage and estrangement from her husband, undergoes some experimental psychotherapy that results in the birth of some murderous little demon children.
Is It Good: Absolutely. It’s (regretfully) one of Cronenberg’s least celebrated works, but it’s an underrated little gem. On the surface, it’s a very tightly constructed story with a great pace, a surprising reveal and a satisfying climax, but underneath, it’s a thoughtful, complex dissection of mental illness, psychiatry and human emotion.
Everything hinges on the psychoplasmics treatment that Oliver Reed’s Dr. Harry Raglan practices. It’s a process in which some intense therapy and role-playing leads patients to transfer their mental anguish or pain into physical (and medically treatable) manifestations. In one scene, a man unable to cope with the abuse he suffered from his father as a child is able to convert that psychological damage into sores and bruises all over his body. I like the concept, as typically the idea of psychosomatic injuries are used to confirm a diagnoses of mental illness as opposed to a method of treatment. But, like with all of Cronenberg’s films in this time period – experimental treatments backfire in some pretty serious ways.
When we start, Nola (Samantha Eggar) is a patient of Raglan’s and is very much involved in the psychoplasmics therapy, but we’re never privy to what sort of manifestations she’s having or that she’s had any at all (nor is it ever made clear just what it was that caused her breakdown). We, as an audience, see the story from the point of view of Nola’s estranged husband, Frank and everything kicks into motion once he sees visible evidence of some sort of abuse all over the body of their daughter, who has been spending a lot of time with Nola at Raglan’s Soma Free Institute. As Frank tries to uncover just what the hell is going on, the people in Nola’s life that she feels have harmed or threatened her in some way (revealed to us in therapy sessions between Nola and Raglan) end up dead. And not just dead, but beaten to death by a group of deranged, deformed, ANGRY little…well, children. I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen it, but everything comes together at the end in the most bizarre yet sensible way possible.
Is It Worth A Look: Without a doubt. There’s pretty much something for everyone here. It’s extremely accessible with a story that works on a superficial level but holds up and offers a LOT to chew on for those who choose to do so. There’s no denying Cronenberg’s craftsmanship and it’s on full display here. The script is real and believable and everything flows really well in terms of dialogue and character. Nothing feels out of place or like it was thrown in just to service and propel the story. The performances range from good to REALLY good, with the only 100% consistency coming from Oliver Reed. Hindle sometimes gets a little lost in the Angry Dad role and Eggar isn’t always able to find that balance between realistic and slightly cartoonish insanity. That said though, nobody here is just outright BAD – they all work very well and you can tell they believe in the work they’re doing. And the reveal, which could have very easily been played for shock, is simply presented. Cronenberg doesn’t do anything to intensify or manipulate what we see, letting Hindle provide the film’s only reaction. The way these extreme visuals are presented in such a a subtle way (without being nonchalant) is impressive and a testament to Cronenberg’s brilliance and his legacy as a filmmaker.
Random Anecdotes: The score was fucking great. I didn’t necessarily like the design of the Brood – I got it, and I know why they went the direction they did, but it never felt natural. Maybe it was the clothes. I still kinda say “Holy Shit” when the little Broodling goes all Rookie of the Year and throws that crystal ball through the wall. It’s such an effective display of tiny power.
Cinematc Soulmates: The Manitou. Cheaper by the Dozen. Anger Management. The Bad Seed.
Tally So Far: