While staying at an isolated island resort, James (Alexander Skarsgård) and Em (Cleopatra Coleman) are enjoying a perfect vacation of pristine beaches, exceptional staff, and soaking up the sun. But guided by the seductive and mysterious Gabi (Mia Goth), they venture outside the resort grounds and find themselves in a culture filled with violence, hedonism, and untold horror in INFINITY POOL.
After its world premiere at Sundance, Nightmarish Conjurings’ Dolores Quintana chatted with INFINITY POOL writer/director Brandon Cronenberg. During the course of their conversation, they discussed the connection of clones to the film’s themes, the psychological development of the characters throughout the film, and the science behind mind-altering framing on camera.
How are you feeling about how the film turned out?
Brandon Cronenberg: I’m quite happy with it. It was a bit of a hectic shoot for us because we were trying to do quite a lot for the time we had, and we were shooting in a couple of different countries in Eastern Europe and in Hungary, and Croatia. So there wasn’t a lot of time to think as we were doing it. We were just plowing ahead on a quick schedule. Obviously, [we were] happy with what we were getting, but it was hard to know until we started to cut it together and the smoke cleared on how it turned out, but I’m quite happy with it ultimately.
I’m trying not to get too many spoilers, but I think people know that clones are involved in the actual plot. Is that connected to the themes that you have going on in the film?
Brandon Cronenberg: I don’t want to do too much of a dive into themes just because to me, what’s great about watching a film is having some freedom to kind of explore it on your own. I hope that an audience will be interested enough in the film to inject their own ideas and then discuss and explore them. So I don’t like to preclude any possibility of people’s thinking it through and disagreeing and coming up with their own interesting interpretations by telling them what the themes are. But yes, certainly. Certainly, that aspect is fairly central.
Was it fun?
Brandon Cronenberg: It’s always fun and crazy. We had such a wonderful cast. They were so great to work with. They were not only game and insanely talented, but really lovely people, and that always makes it a lot of fun.
The ensemble works together beautifully and they’re even though they’re doing really bad things, they seem like they’re really enjoying it, and they’re having a lot of fun. It’s incredible to watch because, at least with me in the back of my mind, I’m like, I shouldn’t be enjoying this, but they are and it’s kind of infectious.
Brandon Cronenberg: That’s the ideal response, or it says a lot about you. I don’t know, but that’s great.
Then you have to have those thoughts afterward. Like, what sort of a person am I if I do kind of enjoy it? That’s part of film today. There’s a lot more violence involved in a lot of films and it is something that people enjoy.
Brandon Cronenberg: Yeah, absolutely. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with enjoying graphic filmmaking. There’s a huge tradition of that, and it has its own kind of visceral impact and an art to it. In the case of [INFINITY POOL], I think it’s actually quite narrative [driven] because so much of what’s driving the film is the psychological development of these characters. At their core, they are sort of bland and people in a bland context have this sometimes repressed violence in them or animal violence or criminality because we are animals. That really is a part of us. In a certain context, it can really come out of people. There’s such a long history of people behaving in incredibly surprising ways, in pockets of strange cultural context or, in this case, because they are free from the conventional responsibility of those elements, and they resurface and then mutate. That’s something very human, but also in this context, something essential to the narrative.
And I think that you’re very right. We are. I think that’s one of the things that, we as a species, have separated ourselves from, our animal origins and the fact that, yes, we are animals. Do you ever feel like there’s something inside you that is not expressed? Or do you feel like you express everything through your films?
Brandon Cronenberg: That’s an interesting question. I think art to a degree is an expression of yourself, but it’s also so transmuted through the form, in film, through the process, because it’s so collaborative, and there are all these pragmatic considerations. So, there are things, obviously, that I like to explore in filmmaking that has to do with my own thoughts and preoccupations. It can be a way of processing the world for me, but it’s not a case that says, I’d make violent films because I’m a violent person. To your earlier point, I don’t think enjoying a violent film makes you a violent person. I find the horror community tends to be very sweet and thoughtful and nerdy. I think horror fans, in my experience, are not really violent people. They tend to be pretty well-rounded, lovely people and so I think there can be a sort of misconception there about the most literal expression of these things in the film context.
I think that it is a way, not to exorcize it, but, to deal with certain things that we feel and [to] not feel so bad just because you’re angry. It doesn’t mean you’re going to be violent. Or just because you watch violent films, [it] doesn’t mean that you’re a violent person either. I think that’s a very good point.
I wanted to ask because I really love the second part of the opening of the film. You did a little bit of it in Possessor with the rotating camera. You came in at different angles and the camera rotated. I just really enjoyed it because it was an introduction to exactly how chaotic things were gonna get stylistically.
Brandon Cronenberg: Oh, thanks. I’m glad you’re glad you liked that. I thought those shots turned out pretty well. We actually had a crane this time, so it was a step up from Possessor. [laughs]
Usually, when you are viewing a film, it’s very like this [makes the director viewfinder gesture]. I really liked it stylistically. To me, it seemed kind of like you were breaking the rules of what you’re supposed to be doing with a film.
Brandon Cronenberg: Well, it’s interesting. [pause] If you put a frame on its side, or if you put a frame upside down, you really end up seeing the world differently just because of the way our brains are calibrated to anticipate the world coming at you from a particular perspective. Actually, if you see the faces upside down, you don’t recognize them as faces in exactly the same way. It’s because your brain is so trained to respond to certain facial configurations. So I think playing with that kind of framing is interesting.
Yeah, that’s kind of what I was thinking because while I was watching it, in the end, I was kind of speechless. I just felt like I had seen something that was so different, and it affected me in a different way. I think that the camera, and how you moved it, in the beginning, was very much a part of that, and that was very exciting to me.[The reason] I come to film festivals is that I want to see, exciting films. I want to have something that just kind of hits me over the head and makes me go, oh, wow, what did I just see? For me, that’s what INFINITY POOL was. I was just walking around afterward and I didn’t quite have the words. I think that obviously, the action and the acting as the film went on, are a part of that as well, but I think that really opened it up for me. I was just wondering if that was the case and if that’s what happened when you do shots that are different [like that].
Brandon Cronenberg: Certainly. We always try to find new to do and I like playing with form. The intersection between form and narrative to me is really interesting. If it works for you, then fantastic. It’s such a subjective thing and then it’s not gonna work for everyone, but it was the intention. So I’m glad to hear that worked when you saw it.
What was it like working with the actors? What was it like working with basically a new cast?
Brandon Cronenberg: They were fantastic. They were really lovely people and totally game, and we spend all this time together in this resort compound when we were shooting in Croatia. So there was this sense of family there that was actually really lovely, [and] also, that weirdly reflected the film itself. Because we were living where we were shooting. The actors were great. They’re so brilliant and wonderful to work with. I have not a bad thing to say about any of them.
And what is next up for you?
Brandon Cronenberg: I’m still trying to figure that out. I’m developing Super Cannes. As I said, there’s also this space horror film that I’ve been working on for a while called Dragon. But, it’s a little hard to say, I’m not sure what’s gonna happen next.
If you were given your wish, what would you do as a director? Do you have a project that you really are dying to do, but you haven’t brought it into pre-production? Is there something that you really have your heart set on?
Brandon Cronenberg: I think these next ones that I’m working on, I’m really focused on. At the moment, I sort of just take it project by project.
INFINITY POOL had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. It will release in theaters on January 27, 2023.