Liking Cronenberg is what happens when horror film appreciation matures. As a kid I appreciated Wes Craven for pushing us to think about the nature of fear in A Nightmare on Elm Street and Scream, John Carpenter for skillfully scaring us with Halloween and The Thing. As an adult I appreciate that the horror Cronenberg conveys in The Brood isn’t there because it frightens us, it’s there because it frightens him.
The Brood is a custody battle, split parents with wildly different world views clash over raising their daughter. The mother Nola (Samantha Egger) lives with Dr. Hal Raglin (Oliver Reed) on his new-age compound while her ex-husband Frank (Art Hindle) struggles with raising their daughter Candice by himself. Violent accidents and unexplained events surrounding their daughter compel Frank to seek Nola’s release from Dr. Raglin’s care. The good doctor’s refusal to release Nola, and continuing horrors, send Frank to the compound to free her. There he discovers it’s too late to save or stop her.
I watched The Brood on my beautiful Criterion Collection Blu-Ray and learned from its special features that Cronenberg received criticism as a sexist and misogynist after the film’s release. The assertion that Cronenberg demonized motherhood and maternity and therefore demonized women with The Brood.
This isn’t unfounded criticism, the horrors of maternity are central to The Brood‘s story but I don’t see them spilling over to a general hatred of women. From what I remember from the special features on the Criterion release, Cronenberg’s own experience with divorce and custody inspired The Brood. This is evident in watching the movie where the central fear of powerlessness to protect your child from an unwell parent is palpable. If that was indeed Cronenberg’s intention then he absolutely succeeds.
Cronenberg sought to exorcise his own fears by committing them to film. The aforementioned directors and their masterpieces are incredible but they merely show fear whereas Cronenberg lived it.
Do not be fooled by its low-budget Canadian aesthetic, The Brood is comparably creepy to its more popular counterparts.