The Brood is a 1979 Canadian psychological body horror film written and directed by David Cronenberg and starring Oliver Reed, Samantha Eggar, and Art Hindle. Its plot follows a man and his mentally-ill ex-wife, who has been sequestered by a psychologist known for his controversial therapy techniques. A series of brutal unsolved murders serves as the backdrop for the central narrative.
Conceived by Cronenberg after his own acrimonious divorce, he intended the screenplay as a meditation on a fractured relationship between a husband and wife who share a child, and cast Eggar and Hindle as loose facsimiles of himself and his ex-wife. He would later state that, despite its incorporation of science fiction elements, he considered it his sole feature that most embodied a "classic horror film". Principal photography of The Brood took place in late 1978 in Toronto on a budget of $1.5 million. The film's score was composed by Howard Shore, in his film composing debut.
Released in the spring of 1979 by New World Pictures, The Brood proved profitable for the studio, grossing over $5 million. Though it initially received mixed reviews from critics, it would establish itself as a cult film in the following decades. It has attracted scholarly interest from academics in the areas of film theory for its themes regarding mental illness and parenthood. In 2006, the Chicago Film Critics Association named it the 88th scariest film of all time. In 2013, it was selected for restoration by the Criterion Collection, which subsequently released it on Blu-ray.
Psychotherapist Hal Raglan runs the Somafree Institute, where he encourages patients with mental disturbances to let go of their suppressed emotions through physiological changes to their bodies in a technique he calls "psychoplasmics". One of his patients is Nola Carveth, a severely disturbed woman who is legally embattled with her husband Frank for custody of their five-year-old daughter Candace. When Frank discovers bruises and scratches on Candice following a visit with Nola, he informs Raglan of his intent to stop visitation rights. Wanting to protect his patient, Raglan begins to intensify the sessions with Nola to resolve the issue quickly. During the therapy sessions, he discovers that Nola was physically and verbally abused by her self-pitying alcoholic mother while neglected by her co-dependent alcoholic father, who refused to protect Nola out of shame and denial.
Meanwhile, Frank, intending to invalidate Raglan's methods, questions Jan Hartog, a former Somafree patient dying of psychoplasmic-induced lymphoma. Frank leaves Candice with her maternal grandmother, Juliana, and the two spend the evening viewing old photographs. Later, Juliana informs Candice that Nola was frequently hospitalized as a child and often exhibited strange unexplained wheals on her skin that doctors were unable to diagnose. While in the kitchen, Juliana is attacked and bludgeoned to death by a small, dwarf-like child. Candice is traumatized, but otherwise unharmed.
Juliana's ex-husband Barton returns for the funeral and attempts to contact Nola at Somafree, but Raglan turns him away. Frank invites Candice's teacher, Ruth Mayer, home for dinner to discuss his daughter's performance in school. Barton interrupts with a drunken phone call from Juliana's home, demanding that they both go to Somafree to see Nola. Frank leaves to console Barton, leaving Candice in Ruth's care. While he's away, Ruth answers a phone call from Nola, who, recognizing her voice and believing her to be carrying on an affair with Frank, insults her and angrily warns Ruth to stay away from her family. Meanwhile, Frank arrives to find Barton murdered by the same deformed dwarf-child, who dies after attempting to kill Frank.
The police autopsy of the dwarf-child reveals a multitude of bizarre anatomical anomalies: the creature is asexual, supposedly colorblind, naturally toothless, and devoid of a navel, indicating no known means of natural human birth. After the murder story reaches the newspapers, Raglan reluctantly acknowledges that Barton's death coincides with his sessions with Nola relating to their respective topics. He closes Somafree and sends his patients to municipal care with the exception of Nola. Frank is alerted about the closure of Somafree by Hartog.
Mike, one of the patients forced to leave Somafree, tells Frank that Nola is now Raglan's "queen bee" and in charge of some "disturbed children" in an attic. When Candice returns to school, two dwarf children attack and kill Ruth in front of her class before absconding with Candice to Somafree, with Frank in pursuit. Upon arriving at Somafree, Raglan tells Frank the truth about the dwarf children: they are the accidental product of Nola's psychoplasmic sessions; her rage about her abuse was so strong that she parthenogenetically bore a brood of children who psychically respond and act on the targets of her rage, with Nola completely unaware of their actions. Realizing the brood are too dangerous to keep anymore, Raglan plots to venture into their quarters and rescue Candice, provided that Frank can keep Nola calm to avoid provoking the children.
Frank attempts a feigned rapprochement long enough for Raglan to collect Candice, but when he witnesses Nola give birth to another child through a psychoplasmically-induced external womb, she notices his disgust when she licks the child clean. The brood awakens and kills Raglan. Nola then threatens to kill Candice rather than lose her. The brood goes after Candice who hides in a closet, but the brood begins to break through the door and try to grab her. In desperation, Frank strangles Nola to death, and the brood dies without its mother's psychic connection. Frank carries a visibly traumatized Candice back to his car and the two depart. As the pair sit in silence, two small lesions—a germinal stage of the phenomenon experienced by Nola—appear on Candice's arm.