Like his father before him, Brandon Cronenberg makes uncomfortable movies about characters descending into flesh-soaked circles of hell. But I'm not here to say that the two Cronenbergs make the same kinds of films. There are distinctions that separate their movies and prove that the younger Cronenberg is a filmmaker working on his own terms. Unlike father David, there's a distinct cosmic coldness to Brandon's work — the sense that everyone, and I mean everyone, is completely doomed. Sex and even romance play a part in David Cronenberg's films, but romance doesn't seem to be a concept that even exists in Brandon Cronenberg's worlds, and the sex on display is detached and sickly. It feels less about pleasure — something the older Cronenberg's films revel in — and more about distraction. It's as if there's no trace of humanity to be found anywhere in the younger Cronenberg's worlds.
Brandon Cronenberg made his feature debut with the icky 2008 flick "Antiviral," but it was his 2020 gorefest "Possessor" that truly signaled Cronenberg as a filmmaker working in a whole other league. I saw "Possessor" at the Sundance Film Festival, and it was one of the most affecting film-going experiences of my life. I was tired right before the screening, and feeling run down. So run down that I even considered skipping the film entirely to get some sleep.
Instead, I stayed, and by the time the film ended, I stumbled out into the cold night air of Park City in a kind of daze. The extreme gore and brutality made me dizzy, feeling almost stoned when coupled with the thing mountain air. It felt like I had just witnessed something I had never seen before, and that's the type of giddy high I'm always chasing, even if the end result is a film soaked in blood and guts.
Hollow, Violent Shells
Cronenberg recaptures those lurid, grisly, ghastly highs with "Infinity Pool," his latest tale of characters engulfed in a kind of perpetual coldness. Everyone is detached and distant. You get the sense that they've all witnessed something that blasted away a part of their minds, leaving behind hollow, violent shells that revel in the depraved. You don't watch a Brandon Cronenberg movie to be entertained, you watch it to leave the theater feeling just a little more deranged than when you went in.
Author James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård) and his wealthy wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) are on vacation at a luxury resort located in Li Tolqa (a fictional place, in case you were wondering). James penned a book a while ago and hasn't done anything since. He hopes that maybe the vacation will rekindle his creative energy, but he mostly just sits around, lounging in the sun and sleeping in.
During the stay, James encounters Gabi — played by newly minted horror queen Mia Goth, who really gets to go big here; bigger even than her fantastic turn in "Pearl." Gabi professes to be a fan of James' book, which immediately gets his attention. Gabi and her husband Al (Jalil Lespert) invite the Fosters on an excursion to a private beach — something they're not really supposed to do, since there are strict rules about never leaving the gates of the resort. But James, who is clearly lusting after Gabi, his number one fan, thinks it's a good idea.
Who Dares Stop You?
Of course, it's not a good idea. After a tragic accident, James ends up in deep trouble with the law. In fact, he's facing execution. But ah, there's a twist! Because on Li Tolqa, the authorities have worked out a way to clone human beings, fully formed, identical to the person being cloned. The clone will then be put to death while the original person gets to walk free — for a very hefty fee. Cronenberg doesn't even bother to explain how all this works, and he doesn't have to — we buy into it because he sells it with the off-kilter strangeness of this world.
A place where advanced cloning is not just possible but a frequent occurrence leaves the door open for endless possibilities, and soon James finds himself descending into a hellish nightmare of debauchery and sick fantasy. Gabi and Al have a whole gaggle of friends who pull James into their twisted little world, while Em is alienated and horrified at the perverted changes in her husband. And oh yeah, there are some extremely creepy masks that I would like someone to start selling in the real world immediately.
What makes a person a person? Where do the clones end and the originals begin? And how far would you go if it felt like there were absolutely no rules? It's clear that everyone at the resort is obscenely wealthy, and as fantastical as the film can be, it's not a stretch to say that for the super-rich there really are no rules. When you're swimming in wealth you can do anything you want. Who dares stop you?
Take A Dip In The Infinity Pool
Cronenberg creates an atmosphere of nauseating dread through it all as things grow increasingly deranged. No fooling: this is not an easy movie to watch. It gets under your skin and makes your flesh crawl. It infects you. You'll probably want to take a shower after the credits roll, and then take another shower just to be sure you're extra clean.
This may have you begging the question: why would I even want to watch this? Because it is a fantastic execution of style and form; of depravity and lunacy. On top of it all, there's a darkly comedic tone lurking beneath all the madness, bordering on satire.
No one is making movies quite like Brandon Cronenberg right now, and as off-putting as his work may be, it should be embraced for its boldness. We need filmmakers willing to take risky chances like this. It's what makes movies special. Take a dip into the "Infinity Pool." I dare you.
/Film Rating: 8 out of 10
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