Following the release of Brandon Cronenberg’s thriller Infinity Pool, several Latent Images staff writers entered a dialogue to discuss the film. The conversation includes writers Richard Zheng, Sammy Dallas, and Charlie Compton, moderated by editor Julian Hart. The discussed topics range from each writer’s experience and impressions with Infinity Pool, Brandon Cronenberg’s career, the legacy of David Cronenberg on his son’s works, and Brandon’s future as a filmmaker.
Julian: Welcome everyone. Our first question is: Who is Brandon Cronenberg? What comes to mind when you hear his name?
Richard: Instinctively, I think of David – I know Brandon is trying to escape his father’s shadow, but I think even he acknowledges inevitably of comparison.
Sammy: Funny enough, I saw Possessor before any David Cronenberg movie, so I’ve always viewed him as a separate entity, but I certainly made sense of his filmography through David Cronenberg. At least when I saw Possessor, he was definitely hardcore and committed to the indie circuit. Infinity Pool seems like his step toward a bigger release. With Neon’s much wider theatrical distribution and the huge crowd at its Sundance premiere, I would consider him a significantly larger name now. Though I still think he has that midnight and uncut appeal with him.
Charlie: That’s an interesting perspective. This is the first movie of Brandon’s that I’ve seen. I’ve seen everything David Cronenberg has made, including his TV movies from 1970s Canadian cable. Brandon’s an interesting guy to talk about compared to other filmmakers’ children (Sofia Coppola and all that). What makes Brandon so particularly interesting is the similarities that he has with his father. A lot of other Nepo baby filmmakers stray a bit further from their lineage, but Brandon is right there with it, which makes him particularly interesting in conversation.
Richard: He is brave for operating in his father’s genre. I’ll give him that. For me, their styles set them apart. Brandon is visionary, not just in terms of visuals, but in how he presents the subject matter at large – that’s the second thing that comes to me when I think about him, actually. You see that in Infinity Pool. More so in Possessor. Even in his directorial debut Antiviral, which is so heavily limited by the budget, you could feel that what you see is exactly what he wants.
Sammy: David Cronenberg is one of those directors that started shooting on film but embraced the digital age, while Brandon started in the digital age. Out of all his movies, Infinity Pool was the most colorful: the overexposure, the white skies, and the psychedelic moments with CGI configurations. Brandon did some practical effects, but his start was not where David had left off. David’s many experiments with satellite and digital inherently inspired his aesthetic – you can draw that line when you look at his cinematography in that sense. The visual aesthetic of David’s later films can be seen in his earlier works, but [Brandon’s] feels detached.
Charlie: Bringing up where David’s leaving off is interesting because he just came back with Crimes of the Future. Both Crimes and Infinity Pool had similar exodus in locations – David has been shooting in Toronto for almost all of his career with Peter Suschitsky and since Dead Ringers, so Crimes has this very different feel from all of his other work. I think so did Brandon. It’s interesting to see how these two films came together in terms of geography.
Sammy: My experience with David’s films is that, the deeper you dig into yourself and the world around you, the more they expose themselves and blossom, but Brandon’s films are very inward: To kind of dig deeper into his films, you have to dig deeper into the director. They watched like him working through – not to say that David doesn’t do this – the manifestation of his personal issues, kinks and struggle. Maybe that’s why there are many jarring moments in Infinity Pool, Possessor, and, I imagine, Antiviral. They just happen in one scene and move on. I wouldn’t strike him as a guy to purely function on shock value, but the shock is there.
Julian: Now onto the second question, what were your general expectations and impressions of Infinity Pool?
Richard: I went in blind on the opening night with zero knowledge of what the film is about. If there were any expectations, they would be based on what I have seen of Brandon. I was disappointed. The film was this unfocused… thing that loses momentum halfway through, especially after the psychedelic sequences. And I think the biggest thing that upset me was how indecisive it was with what it wanted to be. There was class satire. There was body horror. There was the more introspective, almost Almodovaran drama aspect about his anxiety and fear as an artist. You know, like Pain and Glory. It’s just a giant, murky hybrid of many things.
Sammy: It’s hard to have expectations going into any Cronenberg movie. I avoided trailers, but it took me a week before seeing it, and the early reviews started piling in. They were mixed, so I set my bar a little lower and ended up having a great time watching the movie, albeit recognizing how unfocused it was. The pieces don’t fit together like other body horror films would, especially for a Cronenberg film. Some of my expectations came from Possessor, which concluded more abstractly and liminally and was harder to piece together. I did feel the surreal chaos as Infinity Pool fell apart, but in equal parts, he wanted to throw everything at you and get them out of his head to the point where the film derailed. Despite everything, I still had a generally positive reaction.
Charlie: I didn’t really watch any trailers, although I was excited, because I like Mia Goth – this was an opportunity for her to accomplish a little more than with Ti West. Same for Skarsgard, obviously – but I was very disappointed when I saw it. It was fun, but never hit me like his father’s films did. The main thing, as you have said, is that his father’s films always feel very purposeful, pointed, and clinical – the executions are very well thought out. If you think of Videodrome or any David Cronenberg movie with self-insert characters (which are most of them) they feel less autobiographical – the entirety of Videodrome is built around the premise and the idea he wants to explore. Whereas Infinity Pool’s autobiographical aspect, the desire to do body horror and Brandon’s experiments with forms – like the spatial stuff – just don’t coalesce into something that makes you go “Wow, that really hits me”. Which is disappointing for me as a fan of provocative and audacious works. It is in that unfortunate middle point where it’s not fun or unserious enough to be so flawed, but also doesn’t hit it where it needs to – so it ends up taking up itself seriously while failing to nail anything.
Richard: Thank you for bringing up purpose, because it was confusing to me how in all of Brandon’s other works, there’s always a bizarre concept as the central driving force. However, in Infinity Pool, stuff just keeps stacking up. On the other hand, a second viewing might produce some new thoughts. What Sammy said made me realize that if you look at this film not as a continuous narrative but as many of his finished thoughts, it might be less chaotic.
Charlie: I did watch it twice, actually. Nothing changed for me.
Sammy: Brandon said that “I want people to feel unbalanced” – and the film did feel quieter than Crash – that film completely rocked me and left me with no idea what to make of all these new channels of thought. I was so sure of Infinity Pool, even though it was still interesting. I’m not sure how far you can go down this path of chasing a film that is so unbalanced and almost awkward – in the same way that he feels awkward and James feels insecure. Is he making a film that’s almost bound to not work?
Charlie: …but just to reflect all of that.
Sammy: Yeah – that intrigues me. There are some clear sacrifices. I wonder what Infinity Pool would have looked like with a few more drafts of the script or more time in pre-production in general. He even admitted that the concept of creating a double of yourself for the death penalty in some unspecified foreign country came from a separate short story idea. That became the prototype for the film. Then he took a trip to a country where he only stayed in the resort. When Brandon explained that, I can see watching an impoverished society that he never got to experience leaving on the bus.
Richard: If I remember right, he said he was sheltered from what’s outside during his entire vacation. His flight arrived at night and he went directly to the resort. The compound was barbed-wired and heavily guarded, so it wasn’t until he left for the airport he finally saw the real world: a poverty-stricken country in shambles. This sense of unease crept on him. So yeah – that was where the spatial aspect of the film came from.
Sammy: Yeah – his experience there was reflected directly in the film but as a therapy for himself. To throw everything out there, he crossed some lines – the tightrope, the sense of realness that both Cronenbergs are attracted to. Parts of it are comedic, and other parts are murky. In Brandon Cronenberg’s mind, he is exposing these kinks, frustrations, inferiority complex, and vulnerabilities he felt from reading negative reviews of Antiviral, but it’s problematic when you look into it and piece it together. Is being humiliated both by choice in the bedroom and unwanted reception of your work close to the exploitation of other countries? The politics don’t fit together with his emotional struggles.
Charlie: It feels too cathartic, you know? Like something he needed. Interestingly, it was originally a short story. Because I love (I’m sure you guys do, too) the Twilight Zone-esque premise. It is such a cool idea that never turned into anything more than an initial premise. There is more in the film, but nothing that hits you in the way that the premise does. He just feeds everything into his catharsis, making it impossible not to have the conversation about him and his dad. You see the way that his dad exercises restraint; he doesn’t, or at least not as much. Again, when you watch Videodrome, every moment where there’s gore effects, it’s an externalization of what the movie’s about. It’s very pointed. It’s quick and it’s purposeful. In Infinity Pool, it feels audacious, like the psychedelic sequences, while well-done, very unoriginal.
Sammy: Oh yeah, that took me off guard.
Charlie: I was like, “What are you doing, man? What was that? Just take it out!” It felt so unnecessary and just, generic psychedelia. It doesn’t have a place within the very interesting, unique concept that he came up with.
Richard: I think the main reason behind that is because of the sheer amount of conceptual breakdown in the writing process. He first wrote the short story, which contains the premise, many, many years ago. Then, he started working on the feature screenplay between Antiviral and Possessor. When the production started, eight years had passed since then and so much had changed. He acknowledged that – Mia and Alex’s performance was given a lot of freedom because he “lost the feeling for the characters.” So there’s that.
Julian: Now that we have already danced around the bigger questions, I want to know what you see in the future of his career. I pulled up an interview he did with The Hollywood Reporter at the Sundance premiere with Vinnie Paul, and he mentioned two projects he is working on. A space horror movie called Dragon that he wrote and has been working on for a couple of years, and a limited series adaptation of a novel called Super Cannes.
Charlie: It’d be cool to see him do something that’s not horror or Sci-Fi and go in one of those specific directions just to get him a little out of his comfort zone. Like a picture about a little Brandon on the Videodrome set! This is his life, where he grew up. To go out and do something else, even if for just one time, would elevate his work.
Sammy: Infinity Pool tries to do that. It’s almost as if it was his answer to avoiding this…
Richard: …Elephant in the room. Yes. Dare I say that he might have already come to terms with the fact that connections will always be drawn, no matter what.
Sammy: The comparison to his father is impossible to avoid. There are moments in Infinity Pool and Possessor (and I’m sure in Antiviral) that stand up to his father’s work. It’s not a loss of potential, but it desperately wants to be something else. A quick note: it says that Super Cannes is a J.G. Ballard adaptation.
Richard: Based on what I know of J. G. Ballard, It’s probably something in between Sci-Fi and social commentary fiction. Hopefully, it would complete what Infinity Pool tried to accomplish. I want to see what new experiments he has to offer. For instance, his take on body horror is refreshing. It’s not flesh mutation, but more a product of the New Extremity school – where you’re integrating extreme pain with the bigger picture stuff, to disturb the audience and to get them thinking. Titane did that. I hope he continues that line. I mean, Infinity Pool is a smart commercial move; he will get more gigs now. Whether they will turn out successful, I don’t know, maybe he will learn from the experience of Infinity Pool – I consider this film as him trying out a new direction – and the next chapter in his career would be more mature and thoughtful.
Sammy: Definitely – Pairing him up with someone like Ballard sounds promising. He wants to do so much, and this seems like an opportunity for him to explore all the high points in a more grounded way. Eagerness is a good trait to have for a director, after all. Cocaine Nights and Super Cannes are a one-two-punch combo from Ballard – both of them depict dystopian resort communities maintaining their balance with dark secrets. Perhaps he is going down that route of exploring something politically charged. Moreover, the mini series’ long format would be good for someone like him, with more time to breathe, and conduct aesthetic experiments that can’t fit in an hour and forty-five minutes.
Charlie: I hope this film will be a palette for him. I was wondering about your guys’ take on this too: I was very mystified by the whole deal with framing characters on the edge, one of those aspects that felt unique and cool. Does it do anything for the movie? Maybe. But I hope elements like that can coalesce in more pointed ways – I get that he’s trying out new and different things, but they all jumbled and fell on top of each other.
Richard: I agree – some of the touches that were inherited from and worked splendidly in Possessor, like the psychedelic sequences and the upturned drone shot. The way they were used in Infinity Pool didn’t feel purposeful, other than the fact they are cool to look at, you know? My take is that as long as he plays them not to just show off with a clear, unified goal in mind, they can work. I hope the uncanny apparatuses can make a comeback too, because they looked stunning in the other films and add flavors that are truly special to Brandon, especially in Antiviral.
Infinity Pool is currently available to rent or purchase on most digital platforms.