Exclusive Interview: Brandon Cronenberg On INFINITY POOL

Musing on madness, reality and ratings.

By Michael Gingold · January 27, 2023, 6:27 PM EST

In his third feature after Antiviral and Possessor, Brandon Cronenberg continues to push the boundaries of the horrific and the hallucinatory with Infinity Pool. Its story of a vacation gone awry in violent and perverse ways is another singular achievement for the writer/director, who spoke to FANGORIA about its sources and execution.

Alexander Skarsgård stars as James Foster, a once-successful author who’s long been suffering writer’s block, and travels to a resort in the otherwise impoverished country of Li Tolqa with his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) in search of inspiration. Instead, he finds a fan in fellow tourist Gabi (X and Pearl’s Mia Goth), vacationing with her husband Alban (Jalil Lespert). Gabi is crazy about James’ book, and also possibly just crazy. She and Alban invite James and Em to take a drive outside the resort’s heavily guarded walls, which leads to a downward spiral into gruesomely brutal, sexually twisted and biologically bizarre areas. Those particulars won’t be hinted at until the end of this interview, and Cronenberg has a lot of other things to say about his latest cinematic mind-twister…

Have you had any bad vacation experiences yourself that informed Infinity Pool?

To a certain degree. The film started as a short story just about the first execution, and as I was expanding it into a feature, I kept going back to a vacation I went on about 20 years ago to an all-inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic. It was surreal, because they would bus you in in the middle of the night, so you couldn’t see any of the country. They would just drop you in this resort compound, which was in fact surrounded by a razor-wire fence. You couldn’t leave, much like in the film, and there was a kind of fake town where you could go shopping. The Chinese restaurant and the horrible discotheque in the movie are both based on that actual resort; the scene with the man on the ATV on the beach being chased by guards actually happened. And then, at the end of the week, they bused you back during the day, and you could see the actual immediate surrounding country, which was very poverty-stricken. There were people living in shacks. That contrast was obviously horrible, but also surreal, because you realized you had never actually entered the country; you were just dropped into this strange pocket of a sort of alternate dimension that had just grown up to become this tacky Disneyland mirror image of reality.

The film is not set in any specific country; was that intentional, to not give it any specific cultural identity?

Yes, partly because the crucial technology and the background behind it obviously wouldn’t work within the context of a real-world culture. But also, it wasn’t meant to be a comment on any particular region, and to make it too similar to something in reality would have created a different thematic context that wasn’t intentional. Although of course, it does have this sort of Eastern Bloc/Communist analogy or authoritarian analogy; it’s closest to that.

How did you discover the right resort to film in?

We found it while scouting a series of resorts in Croatia. We actually went before Possessor; I wrote Infinity Pool before we shot Possessor, and just a month or two before we started prep on that film, we flew over and scouted Budapest and Croatia, which made sense for both creative and production reasons. We spent quite a while going from resort to resort, up the coast of Croatia, which sounds great [laughs], except we weren’t staying long at any one place; we were sort of doing a bus tour of the coast.

How did you find the right two actors for the leads? Was there a process, or did you know who you wanted from the start?

Alexander and Mia were both actors I’d wanted to work with for a while, who I find incredibly exciting. My casting process is sort of stupidly simplistic, in that to me, there are some actors who just have this thing to them. They come on screen, and you find them absolutely fascinating and compelling immediately, because they’re making no boring choices. They’re so convincing and surprising. Ultimately, I like to take actors like that, plug them into my characters, and see what happens. There are certain narrative parameters, age and gender for instance, but often I’m just looking for an actor who is inherently exciting, to inject a different life into the characters, who I’ve usually become too bored with by the time we’re actually shooting, because it’s such a long development process, the characters kind of go to sleep on you. So I want someone to jump into their skin, wake them up and surprise me.

That’s certainly Mia Goth in this film; was there ever a point where you had to bring her down?

No [laughs]. I mean, for that character, you wouldn’t need to, though she can obviously do incredibly subtle stuff as well. It’s helpful with an actor like that, because you can always tone things down if you want, either in the edit or on set, but you can’t get an actor to achieve a level of intensity and energy beyond what they’re capable of, and she’s obviously capable of that complete spectrum.


Was it exciting watching her star ascend this past year, after you’d shot Infinity Pool?

It was. I’d wanted to work with her for such a long time, and it’s great that she’s finally getting the recognition she’s deserved this whole time.

Can you talk about working with your cinematographer Karim Hussain to create the film’s surreal passages?

Of course. Karim’s shot all my films and has become a very dear friend. In the case of the hallucination sequences, they’re entirely practical, in-camera effects. We didn’t really use the same techniques as in Possessor, but it was an extension of that exploration, so aesthetically, there’s a bit of resonance between those two films. We would start by doing a large number of experiments with gels and light and diopters, figuring out how we could deform the image and the color in interesting ways. We also involved Dan Martin, our special-makeup artist, in those discussions, because some of them were effects-based. And Zosia Mackenzie, our production designer, built these incredible mirror-box sets. There was one that was entirely mirrors, except on the front, it was a two-way mirror so you could see through but not out, and then on the back it was a kind of smart glass, so you could have a pinwheel of lights in the back, that would spin and only the lights would come through the smart glass, and then get reflected around inside the box. I’m told that what Karim and I do in front of the camera looks like a stupid puppet show, because we’re dangling little bits of gel and light cubes and so on.

Then after, we spent an incredible amount of time rephotographing the rushes in Karim’s living room. We projected them and filmed them again through additional layers of manipulation, sometimes for an incredibly long time; one day, I believe Karim and I spent 16 hours straight rephotographing the rushes, creating an absolute mountain of footage that had to be dealt with by my poor editor, James Vandewater. James and I spent a very long time cutting those sequences together, sometimes frame by frame, like stop-motion; we’d be picking individual frames and pairing them together to see what kinds of effects we could generate.

Martin created some really nasty effects for Infinity Pool, and you also have the ejaculation close-up and other heavy sexual content; how on Earth did you get an R rating for this movie?

Well, there are two versions of the film, a U.S. unrated version and an R-rated version for theatrical. They are pretty similar, but the ejaculation, even though it’s completely fake and just great work by Dan [laughs], just on principle, I guess you’re not even allowed to have even a fake version of that in an R-rated film.

Will the unrated version that’s played Sundance and other screenings also be out commercially as well?

I believe so. I know there’s a plan in the works through Neon, but for the commercial theatrical run, it has to be R-rated, because NC-17 in the U.S. is a massive problem. In Canada, we had to get it through the B.C. [British Columbia] ratings board. In Quebec, it was rated 16, but in B.C. they gave it an R, which is the equivalent of NC-17 in Canada. So there, it’ll be the U.S. R version in theaters, but all other aspects of the release in Canada will be the uncut one.

How have the reactions been at Sundance and your other screenings?

They’ve been good. The crowd at Sundance was really warm, and we got some laughs, which is nice.

How much of the film was intended to get laughs, with that dark-comic edge?

The whole thing, to a certain degree… I think it can be both; you can be funny and still serious, but it was definitely intended to be humorous. In our early test screenings, when I showed it to groups of close friends and colleagues during the editing process, we didn’t get many laughs, and that was worrying [laughs]. I thought if people weren’t getting the humor of it, that was going to be a problem, but it seems to have worked itself out.

(SPOILERS follow…)

Infinity Pool is almost an extension of Possessor, in the sense that that film is about the transference of identity, and this is about the duplication of it. Is that a theme you like to consciously explore?

It is. I guess it’s where my head is at right now; I find identity and consciousness to be interesting things to think about, and maybe that creeps into my writing. But the idea of identity as performed is maybe more at the core of Possessor, whereas in Infinity Pool, it’s more about what makes someone a continuous human. Is a person singular, is a person continuous, or are these things more messy than that?

One thing that impressed me about Infinity Pool was that after the first execution of James’ clone, the story could have gone in the simple direction of asking whether it’s James who survived, or the clone. That seemed like the obvious way to go, and you dispense with that question in one scene and move on.

It’s funny, because Infinity Pool is sort of presented as a doubles movie or a cloning movie because that’s the core concept on a certain level. But it’s really meant to be primarily a figurative thing, and a vehicle to talk about other stuff. It doesn’t work very well, I think, as a predictive sci-fi vision of what cloning technology could be, because it’s deliberately dreamlike in the film. It may be a little closer to the spirit of magic realism than sci-fi in that respect.

What do you have coming up?

I have a few things in the works. One of them I can’t talk about, one of them is an adaptation of a J.G. Ballard novel called Super-Cannes, which I’m trying to make into a limited series. And then there’s a space movie called Dragon that I’ve been developing for a number of years, and that I hope I’ll be able to make soon.

As you continue to move up in the business, do you think you’ll continue to have the same freedom to venture into these bizarre and perverse places?

I believe there’s a sweet spot, and I don’t know that I’ve reached it just yet, but it’s always, to some degree, a balance between budget and freedom. As films cost more and people invest more, that tends to limit your freedom more, but if you build yourself up slowly, you can become someone who is more marketable because there’s a basic interest in your work. I would like to make movies that are a bit more expensive; especially in science fiction, there’s so much you can do with a bigger budget. But I do also like having creative control, and that might limit my ceiling a little bit.