Brandon Cronenberg’s all-inclusive holiday visits bloody extremes

Film by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Infinity Pool
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The teeth. Oh god, the teeth.

Since his first movie in 2012 (Antiviral), Brandon Cronenberg has consistently raised the bar for disturbing imagery. In Possessor (2020), a blunt object makes contact with Sean Bean’s head, relocating his teeth to areas of his face that shouldn’t have them. There was something primal, unique to that bit of carnage that made it stick. I can still conjure the image instantly and get a little shiver when I do.

There’s nothing as perversely enduring in Infinity Pool, though gore and secretions abound. As well-thought-out and executed as the bloodshed is, it would be unfair to characterize it as the main attraction. Brandon is going for something deeper and stranger.

While his dad (David Cronenberg) made a name for himself exploring the horrors that come from combining technology and the human body, Brandon examines not being in command of our own forms. In Possessor, the exploration was quite literal, with protagonist (a never better Andrea Riseborough) who could download herself into other people’s bodies and commit assassinations.

In Infinity Pool, Cronenberg’s examination takes place by way of sex and money. James (Alexander Skarsgård), a down-on-his-luck writer, drowns his sorrows at an all-inclusive resort, a playground for the rich in the middle of an impoverished country. His pity party is interrupted by Gabi (Mia Goth, Pearl), one half of a well-off couple who claims to be a fan. James is drawn to Gabi and her indulgent lifestyle.

James’ transgressions are enabled by his new rich friends and the local police, only too happy to turn capital punishment into stern talks for the right amount. But eventually even James must acknowledge the rottenness of his new acquaintances has rubbed off on him, and his soul has been irremediably compromised.

I discussed Infinity Pool with Brandon Cronenberg via Zoom.

Infinity Pool reminded me of my time at an all-inclusive, particularly how performative the whole experience felt: you’re technically in a different country, but not really. I imagine this is where the idea for the film came from.

In part. The genesis was a short story featuring a man in a fictional country watching a double of himself being executed for a crime that he committed. When I expanded it into a feature, I started drawing from memories going to an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic about 20 years ago. It was very disturbing, because they would bus you in in the middle of the night so you wouldn’t see any of the country. They just drop you into this resort compound, surrounded by a razor wire fence. At the end of the week they bus you out during the day and you finally see the poverty-stricken surrounding areas. This Disneyland mirror of the host country struck me as a good setting for this kind of story.

How far did you go into creating the ethos of the Li Tolqa (the fictional country where Infinity Pool unfolds)?

We had a linguist come on to design a coherent language, written and spoken. My art department did a huge amount of research on everything from the kind of money that would be suitable for this kind of country to the pseudo-Eastern-Block aesthetic, which was fed by shooting in Hungary and Croatia. Even though Li Tolqa is intended to not make sense as a country but to have a dream logic to it, we did our best to make it seem like a real place at first.

Did you shoot every scene you wanted? From an audience point of view, it seems that you got away with everything.

Only in the traditional sense. We had a fairly tight shooting schedule because we were an indie film, but paradoxically we ended up with a huge amount of footage because to get everything we needed we were rolling with two, sometimes three, occasionally four cameras. Then, the way we did the hallucination scenes, because they were all practical, in-camera effects, me and my cinematographer (Karim Hussain) would re-photograph rushes with different forms of distortion and took the best pieces.

I rarely get to talk to a filmmaker after his movie has opened, so I get to ask you this: What do you make of the reactions to Infinity Pool so far?

They have been surprisingly positive. I always assume people are going to absolutely hate my films. We’ve been making money, which is a shock to me.