Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Brood

31 Days of Horror
After the disappointment of Halloween II (2009), I needed a palette-cleanser, something that would refresh my interest in horror movies, at least for a few more days.  On the suggestion of an old friend, I went with The Brood.  Why this movie?  Two reasons.  First, it's directed by David Effin' Cronenberg and, even though I've seen little of his early work, his style just screams "weird horror."  The second comes from the first moments of the movie trailer:
No, not the "Frightism Trailers" banner --- I had trouble finding an original trailer with good sound quality, so the advertisement was well worth it --- the warning:
Now comes a major motion picture event that will take you far beyond anything ever filmed before. You are about to journey beyond fear, beyond terror, beyond the boundaries of your mind, in a film so terrifying, it will devastate you totally.
My immediate response to that was "Bullshit."  Of course, my immediate response to the next scene, where kitchen goods are being knocked on the floor, was to reference The Jerk and say, "He hates these cereals!  Stay away from the cereals!"  My immediate reactions can be a tad flippant at times (or all the time).  Still, the trailer intrigued me, if only because I had never seen a film that promised to "devastate [me] totally."

The Brood begins with Dr. Raglan (Oliver Reed) on stage with another, much uglier, man.  The lighting is sparse, the stage set seems to be bare, and the two men appear to be talking about...daddy issues?
"Why did you curse me with this hairline and this skin?"
It quickly becomes apparent that this is not some avant-garde theater piece, but is instead a public performance of Dr. Raglan's particular brand of psychotherapy, psychoplasmics.  To boil it down for you in the simplest way possible, Dr. Raglan engages in some sort of role play with the patient (probably as a parent because...well, Freud) and excites them to the point where their body has a physical reaction to their pain, which (maybe, I guess) results in them letting off steam and feeling better.  Frank (Art Hindle) has a wife who has been in psychoplasmics for several months now, and it's not having the results he had hoped for.  His wife, Nola (Samantha Eggar), has been in "isolation" for several months now, which means that Frank hasn't been able to see or speak to her.  He just has to take Dr. Raglan's word that her therapy is in a critical state at the moment. 
"Trust me, I'm an evil doctor.  I mean...regular doctor"
That wouldn't bother Frank too much, since Nola was zebra-in-a-tree crazy, but he has to let his five-year-old daughter, Candice (Cindy Hinds), spend weekends with crazy mommy.  Even that was okay for a while, but Candice has started returning home with bruises, scratches, and bite marks, and she's very reluctant to talk about it.  However, even physically abusive crazy mothers have visitation rights (apparently), so Frank has to dig deeper to prove that she is unfit to see their daughter.  His plan is to discredit psychoplasmics by talking to former patients.
"Smell this.  It'll hold up in court"
It's harder than it sounds, because Dr. Raglan runs his therapy like a cult leader, with his personality dominating all others, and his patients live in a complex with him.  But then things start happening.  What kind of things?  Creepy, goblin-y, snowsuit-wearing things that like to murder.
If this kid made a cat noise, I would call it The Canadian Grudge
And these things seem to be happening to people that Nola is talking about during therapy.  What's going on here, Dr. Raglan?  And who found a snowsuit for this troll?
Thank god they didn't make Lord of the Rings in the 1970s

The acting in The Brood is okay, but a bit melodramatic.  Art Hindle was solid in the lead role; all he had to do was seem reasonable and fairly likable, and he was able to do that with ease.  He was a little blank at times, but no more so than most other main characters in horror movies.
Is he horrified by an atrocity, or does the carpet match the wallpaper?
Oliver Reed has a gloriously evil-sounding voice (even when he plays nice characters), so it was easy for him to sound menacing and disturbing.  He was a bit too melodramatic for my tastes, but I think that was designed to fit the style of the film more than him hamming it up.  Samantha Eggar was not too impressive for the first hour and fifteen minutes of this movie, but then she got real creepy, real fast.
Those are some excellent crazy eyes
Her weird, revolting performance over the next ten or fifteen minutes more than makes up for the boring psych patient she was playing earlier in the film.  This was the first film appearance for Cindy Hinds, and she was definitely a child actor.  The part requires her to act kind of shell-shocked, so she couldn't be all that bad, but Haley Joel Osment she ain't.  Susan Hogan was fine as a concerned teacher, but it was a bit part, really.  Robert A. Silverman was as weird and awkward as he usually is in his Cronenberg roles.  There is a running theme of slightly off-kilter melodrama in just about all of the performances, but none of it seems out of place in this film.  Is that a good or bad thing?  Well...

David Cronenberg wrote and directed The Brood, and if you're familiar with Cronenberg's work, that shouldn't surprise you.  Why is that?  Because it gets pretty weird, that's why.  From a direction standpoint, I liked what Cronenberg did.  He effectively built up the tension throughout the film, and made sure it paid off.  You can definitely argue that the pace is too slow, but I thought it worked with the tone of the movie.  Speaking of the tone, right off the bat, from the first second of the credits, you are aware that you are watching a horror movie.  The soundtrack is almost completely composed of discordant strings, as if the violinist is saying "Something bad will eventually happen!"  Actually, the overwhelming soundtrack cues are part of what makes the pace seem slow; the music builds and...nothing.  Still, I didn't mind that for some reason.  Cronenberg also did a good job capturing the grossness in this movie.
Why is she licking that baby clean?  Aside from making me puke in my mouth a little
Cronenberg generally incorporates special effects very well in his films, and this is no exception.  A lot of the violence comes across as comical, with spaghetti-red blood and dwarven killers, but he nails the gross-out factor with ease.
Actual dialogue from this scene: "Cronenberg!" (said like "Ta-da!")
Also, The Brood is one of the few movies that will show a child-sized creature being straight-up shot dead.  So there's that.

Cronenberg's writing for The Brood was a bit more problematic for me.  For starters, the dialogue was pretty rough in patches.  Three examples jumped out at me:
  1. Assistant: "Should I stop him?" [as Nola's father gets in his car] Dr. Raglan: "No, he's drunk." [car drives away].  Because that sounds like something a doctor would say.
  2. A policeman says "It wouldn't be the first time," after theorizing that the dwarf killer thing was the misshapen mutant child of someone that had been raised in secrecy and exploded with fury when it was able to escape into the real world.  WHAT?!?
  3. Candice's teacher puts off romancing Frank because "[his] life is too complicated," and he takes that without comment.  You know what he could have said?  "Sorry it took longer than I expected.  Instead of meeting up with my father-in-law and driving him home, I found his corpse and had to stay for the police investigation.  Which you would have known if you only picked up the damn phone."
Keep in mind that there were also a few dozen instances of typical Cronenberg awkwardness in the script, especially with neck-cancer guy.  Even if you ignore the oddities in the script, the plot was lacking, too.  This movie has a slow build, right?  It has a central mystery, that is revealed to coincide with the building of the plot.  However, the mystery is pretty obvious to the audience.  Okay, maybe not every detail of the twist, but I was able to guess almost exactly what was happening at around the thirty minute mark.
I didn't guess that they all had hoodies
There were a few instances of unintentional hilarity, too.  So you have these weird dwarf/child/demon-looking things, and they're killing people with whatever they can get their hands on, right?  The toy mallets that children use to hammer stuff do not make for sinister murder weapons.  Let's just leave it at that.
And this doesn't quite work as a kidnapping scene

Despite the problems I had with Cronenberg's writing, I still enjoyed The Brood.  I would have preferred a less predictable story, but at least I was surprised by the visuals.  It says something about the execution of the twist in this film that, even though I more or less predicted it, I was still satisfied.  There are many, many moments that make me suspect that this could be Lefty Gold upon further viewings, but it still functions as a legitimate horror movie.  But it is definitely weird, which is reason enough to recommend it in a genre filled with rehashed ideas.  The silliness of the writing knocked it down a few notches for me, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this movie gets better with repeated viewings.  I don't know if it lives up to the hype of devastating you totally, but this is definitely a movie you can't un-see.

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