By: Josh Floyd
The 1979 movie The Brood, written and directed by David Cronenberg, was the fourth of his tax shelter films. While it wasn’t well-received at its original release, it has gain more positive reviews in recent year along with a cult following. This movie was very influential to Canadian culture through its subversion of commonly used genres and straying into body horror, using themes of isolation and the Garrison mentality, using tax shelters to create movies cost-effectively, and casually mentioning Canadian cities in lines of dialogue between characters.
Around this time, the only forms of media Canadians were producing were realistic shows, documentaries, or sitcoms which depicted everyday life. Cronenberg may be considered one of the first people to push Canada out of this rut without straying too far from what Canadians liked. Almost all of Cronenberg’s films in this time period focused relatable characters and setting, similar to shows of that time. This is where Cronenberg’s art for horror lies. He lulls you into a false sense of security and familiarity only to have the horror elements shake the audience’s very core. Cronenberg follows this exactly through the movie The Brood. He establishes the main character, Frank Carveth, who wants custody over his daughter. Right away, the story gives a topical problem for the time period because divorce was being more widely accepted in the 1980’s and custody battles were more apparent. Even Cronenberg, “was working out his own rage over his (particularly messy) divorce and lengthy custody battle for his young daughter” (Riches, 2012). Later in the movie, a mysterious string of murders of the man’s in-laws, although tragic, isn’t hinted at being supernatural until about halfway through the movie. By keeping the audience in the dark about what happening, the audience wants to stay to learn the truth even though they don’t want to because of fear.
The Garrison Mentality is a theme that comes up time and time again in Canadian media. This idea focuses on isolation from the outside world and the oppressiveness of outside forces (Atwood, 1972) and in The Brood, that’s exactly what it does. Nola Carveth is the wife of the protagonist and she is kept locked away in a psychiatric facility. Not only is this facility hidden away from society in the middle of the forest, but Nola is segregated even further from the patients. All of the patients are allowed to interact with one another, as it is seen when they put on plays and are seen talking among themselves. Nola is never allowed to be a part of those activities. If characters try to seek out to see her, they are always stopped by the psychotherapist and he goes to great lengths to stop any interaction with Nola. The most Canadian setting in the entire movie is the shed “for the climax of the film, and its unvarnished wooden walls, makeshift wooden beds, and bare-bulb or candle lighting amidst natural darkness and forest surroundings create a strong sense of organix simplicity - it is by far the most different setting in all of Cronenberg’s work to this point” (Beard, 2015). This is the embodiment of the Garrison Mentality where the characters are isolated as much as possible from the outside world. This constant reminder of isolation in Canada’s vast but empty country adds a level of horror to these films because there’s no one around to help.
David Cronenberg has made it abundantly clear that he wants to keep filming his projects in Canada. Keeping his working within our country allows him to use tax shelters. From its inception in 1974, Cronenberg made good use of these tax shelters to fund his movies as “it increased the Capital Cost Allowance (CCA) from 60 to 100 per cent… This resulted in a massive increase in Canadian production and marked the beginning of the ‘tax shelter era’”(Handling, Magder, & Morris, 2012). Movies from this era were not well-received, but Cronenberg acknowledges this and still credits these tax shelter movies with “launching his career, though he also recognized the overall scheme as a failure.” Not only does David Cronenberg film his movies and have them take place in Canada, he also does something very subtle, yet important. In the movie The Brood, there are casual callouts to Canadian cities. Throughout the movie, characters reference cities like Halifax, where the man’s father-in-law is flying in from. This may not seem important, but in the long-term, it is. Mentioning cities in America is expected and well-known for American audiences. Everyone around the world has a general understanding about New York City and Los Angeles, but when Cronenberg chooses to have a callout to a lesser-known city (such as Halifax), it makes the city more prominent in the audience’s mind.
Moving from realism and documentary Canadians were used to into his type of horror, Cronenberg effectively uses realistic elements to familiarize the audience watching The Brood with the characters and setting. He uses the backdrop of Canada to even enhance the horror elements of his movie by using themes of isolation, and proudly puts Canadian cities in the spotlight through filming locations and callouts to the city. David Cronenberg’s works are undoubtedly and unashamedly Canadian and his contributions to Canadian culture has not gone unnoticed.