Upon watching new movie Infinity Pool, you will be wondering what holiday from hell did writer/director Brandon Cronenberg experience.
The answer is the filmmaker’s vacation to the Dominican Republic two decades ago, staying at a luxury resort which was closed off from the surrounding poverty-stricken town by barbed wire.
It’s a memory that has clearly stayed with him, providing the foundation for his latest feature which follows a couple as they enjoy an all-inclusive holiday on a beautiful island.
Events take a turn when a fatal accident exposes the resort’s subculture of hedonism, which James (Alexander Skarsgård) dives further into, joining the mysterious Gabi’s (Mia Goth) merry band of reckless criminals.
To say anything more would spoil the many shocks and surprises the film has in-store for audiences, but we can tell you that it is a wild rollercoaster.
Whilst a Caribbean holiday inspired the tale, Cronenberg sets his story on the fictional island of La Tolqa, a place that feels distinctly European as it appears to be stuck in the Soviet era.
As Cronenberg tells Zavvi, this shift in location helped bring to life the dystopian world the story is set in:
“It needed to be a fictional state as the technology and justice system of this place has an absurdity to it – this isn’t a traditional sci-fi film, it’s more a magical realistic movie.
“I liked the idea of making the resort more Adriatic or European rather than tropical as that vaguely Eastern Bloc quality fits the tone.
“However, on paper it was vaguer, but when we shot the film in Croatia and Hungary, the real-world histories of communism in those countries started to creep in.
“With the design for instance, the cars to the police station, that aesthetic bled in more and more.”
The result is a hellscape any normal person would want to run away from, but it allows James and co. to indulge in their darkest fantasies and so, they find it irresistible.
There is therefore plenty of blood-soaked violence, nauseating depravity, and intoxicated debauchery – but what else would you expect from the director of haunting horrors Antiviral and Possessor?!
Infinity Pool then once again allows Cronenberg to play around with practical effects (he is most definitely the son of David Cronenberg), with the filmmaker happily telling us that no CGI is used in the hallucinatory sequences:
“In my scripts I just write vague paragraphs for these scenes mentioning flashes of nightmare imagery and weird dreams – but that’s code for my team to say we are going to spend a lot of time experimenting with practical effects and finding it through process.
“A lot of that work starts with my cinematographer looking at how we can disform the image in an interesting way, which looks like a stupid puppet show as we dangle things in front of the camera.
“For this one we leaned heavily on dichroic filters which as they bend show different colours in the light, and we also shot a huge amount of footage in collaboration with our set designers who built these massive mirror boxes.
“We then spend a ridiculous amount of time looking at these rushes, putting them through more filters – we take a shot and distort it in several different ways.
“It’s a fairly deranged process I undertake with my editor as there’s a mountain of footage to work through – we find little bits and build it like stop-motion animation, frame by frame, piecing it together.”
The result is a series of heady sequences that get under the skin, with Infinity Pool’s exploration of dangerous, futuristic technology allowing Cronenberg to be extra experimental and provocative.
Technology has been a dominant theme throughout Cronenberg’s filmography, with the director admitting it is something that at times terrifies him:
“I do like technology, I’m not a technophobe, but it’s also something that radically changes society, our experiences, and how we interact with each other – just look at AI, that will completely transform the next decade in ways we can’t predict.
“Although technology is hugely exciting to me, it also fundamentally alters who we are and what we do in ways that can be destructive.
“And if you are interested in people, you have to be interested in technology – the good and the bad that comes from these mutations.”
As Cronenberg notes there, his work always examines what it means to be human, with this analysis often dissecting the relationship between identity and technology.
Infinity Pool is no different as we see our characters pushed to the extreme, completely letting loose, living their most wretched and dangerous daydreams:
“Horror is cathartic as it’s healthy to explore these aspects of the human emotional spectrum, the parts of our mind that we don’t tend to engage with, the things we normally avoid in life.
“But even if a film is a straight drama, it’s always about the experience of being human. I think there is an experience but nothing essential to being human – we don’t have a core being or soul that makes us continuous.
“Being human is a trick of the brain that makes us see ourselves as continuous entities and we perform as these characters.
“And so, in exploring what it means to be human, I guess I’m stuck on this idea of performance and unreality, how the brain creates characters rather than there being a true aspect to humanity.”
That means every character in Infinity Pool is performing which only makes the film more mysterious, especially since you never know where our protagonist James will go next.
He continually swings between being hesitant about committing these awful crimes to dedicating himself entirely to this depraved lifestyle – there is no middle ground.
And the way he reacts to the corruption and debauchery is distinct compared to everyone else, which is mostly thanks to the fact James comes from a different background to the others.
Whilst the likes of Gabi have always been privileged, James married into wealth which places him as an outsider, just like the audience
However, Cronenberg emphasises that this is in no way meant to make him a relatable figure: “He’s not necessarily the eyes of the audience, a character to relate to, or the ethical centre of the film.
“But it adds this element of vulnerability to him, an outsider quality that allows him to not see this as business as usual. None of these characters though care about others – this host country just creeps into the periphery of their consciousness.
“The film is very subjective as it’s from their perspective but that’s often the case with people on holiday – I spoke to a journalist the other day who knew someone who went on vacation but didn’t know which country they were in!”
It is indeed a smart satire of wealth and privilege, hence why it has invited many comparisons to hit show The White Lotus – and it is like that series, but on crack.
So, whilst it is being marketed as a horror and features those elements, I’d actually argue that it is a comedy too – the screening I went to was a riot of laughter.
This news delights Cronenberg who admits he was concerned that the humour wouldn’t shine through: “When I first wrote the script and we started developing it, the team thought it was funny, we were all chuckling to ourselves thinking it’d be hilarious.
“We started hosting these small screenings as at a certain point in the edit, you need fresh eyes on it – but there was no laughter almost across the board. I thought ‘we are f*cked’ as if people aren’t seeing the humour in it, we had really screwed up.
“But then at the Sundance screening, people were laughing at all the right moments and I could start to relax – they found humour in it in the way we do.”
The film continued to be a hit with audiences upon release in America and the case will surely be the same here, now that it is finally hitting UK screens.
But whilst it is an entertaining ride, just make sure you don’t see it with your mum!