'Infinity Pool': Brandon Cronenberg takes us on an impressively horrific vacation
Alexander Skarsgård and Mia Goth lead a thrilling satire of the rich, in a terrifyingly consequence-free society
Following his 2020 film Possessor, Canadian filmmaker Brandon Cronenberg's new movie Infinity Pool, starring Alexander Skarsgård and Mia Goth, takes us on an impressively horrific, violent and hedonistic vacation.
Novelist James (Skarsgård) is trying to combat writer's block by travelling to an opulent, all-inclusive resort in the fictional country of Li Tolqa with his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman). While on this vacation they meet another couple, Gabi (Goth) and Al (Jalil Lespert), who have been to this affluent resort before, and eventually convince James and Em to break the one rule of the property, guests can't go beyond the gates.
After spending the day having a boozy beach barbecue, James hits a local man while driving back to the resort, killing him instantly. Gabi stresses the best thing to do, given Li Tolqa's policing practices, is to just go back to the resort and pretend nothing happened.
But the crime catches up with them, and James and Em are both brought to the police station.
In Li Tolqa, the consequence for this crime is death, but there's another option for wealthy tourists to consider. You can pay to have a clone created, an exact replica of a person's body that also retains all their memories, and that clone can be executed instead. The rule is that Em and James will also be forced to watch the clone's execution.
James quickly finds out that these new friends he's made at the resort have been participating in this for years, treating Li Tolqa as their playground to do what they want, and avoid traditional consequences.
No consequences for the rich
For Cronenberg, the idea for this film started as a short story, just based around the execution scene where James first watches himself die.
“It really just took place in a scene where someone was watching a double of himself getting executed, but the double has the memories of the crime and feels guilty, and so it was more about identity and punishment,” Cronenberg told Yahoo Canada. “The resort stuff came later when I was expanding it into a feature because that seemed like a good setting to talk about people operating without conventional consequences.”
While it's tempting to put Infinity Pool in the same box as shows like The While Lotus, or other films like Triangle of Sadness and The Menu, Cronenberg really enticingly pairs this satire of the elite with the concept of how someone's psychology can, as Cronenberg describes it, "deform" in a consequence-free society.
'The sci-fi as designed by Apple, super slick thing has been done to such an extreme'
When you think of cloning, likely the first thing that comes to mind is a very sterile, futuristic, minimalist space, but that's not the case in Infinity Pool. Instead, the film balances this shiny and bright resort with this very rustic, almost decaying setting for where the cloning and execution happen.
“It had to be as textured and menacing as the resort was superficial,” Cronenberg explained. “Part of that was just choosing locations. We shot in Hungary and Croatia, and so there's this history in those places that is actual Communist history."
Part of the film, for example, was shot at a power station that was built during the Communist era.
"Maybe because the sci-fi as designed by Apple, super slick thing has been done to such an extreme with shows like Black Mirror, that even though that probably represents an accurate version of the future, I feel like we stopped responding to it at a certain point, because it just becomes convention," Cronenberg said.
"So for that reason, but also because of the environment and the narrative, I wanted to do something more rundown."
'What I really want from an actor is someone who will surprise me'
Aside from the enticing visuals, the cast of Infinity Pool is, if we can be so bold to say, perfection. But Cronenberg does recognize that in order to get these complex and thrilling moments on screen, with this level of intensity, he needed the actors to pull it off.
“Definitely the most important part is just getting the right actors on to begin with,” Cronenberg said. “There are some actors who I think are so immediately brilliant and exciting."
“I really want to target actors like that and plug them into my characters, and give them some freedom to explore. Because by the time I'm actually making the movie, the characters in my script have kind of fallen asleep on me. I've been with them too long and they've gotten boring, and they're in a rut. So what I really want from an actor is someone who will surprise me and inject them with this new life.”
The filmmaker added that while he's trying to think about the edit as he's directing, he also makes it a point to "get out of the way" of an actor's process.
“I don't really clamp down much when I'm actually shooting," Cronenberg said. "I like to give them a fair bit of space."
"Then in the edit I get very particular again, because I think you can really change performance in the edit. You can really either support an actor's great work … or you can really ruin a performance.”
When it comes to Alexander Skarsgård's portrayal of James, Cronenberg really tapped into the actor's versatility.
“He has this presence and charisma that allows him to play these leading men parts," Cronenberg said. "He has been in bigger studio films but he's also much more interesting than that, and is really having to embrace this kind of subversive stuff, and work against expectations, and he has the ability to do that.”
“So to have someone who could start the film looking like they stepped out of a resort brochure, but then completely not only get the nuance of the drama, but eventually deform himself into this cannibalistic character, was rare and wonderful.”
Mia Goth, after her dynamic performance in Ti West's Pearl, is quickly becoming the queen of horror with these uniquely affecting, and frankly creepy, characters.
“Mia is someone I wanted to work with for many years, because ever since I saw her for the first time in Nymphomaniac, and every film after that, she's just always particularly incredible,” Cronenberg said. “She steals every scene, she always has this amazing quality to her.”
With all the discussions about the "Nepo Baby" phenomenon, we have to mention that the filmmaker's father, David Cronenberg, is a sci-fi and horror legend. But Infinity Pool shows that not only is his son just as skilled, but he has such an enticing, hooking, almost obsessive viewpoint as a filmmaker himself.
If you're a fan of a scare and a thrill, Infinity Pool proves to be one of the best.
Infinity Pool opens in theatres Jan. 27