#‘Infinity Pool’ Filmmaker Brandon Cronenberg Didn’t Worry About Rating While Making Shocking Horror Film
‘Infinity Pool’ Filmmaker Brandon Cronenberg Didn’t Worry About Rating While Making Shocking Horror Film
Infinity Pool, the out-there horror movie from director Brandon Cronenberg, was one of the talks of the Sundance Film Festival. With its eye-popping and blood-gushing violence and hallucinatory orgies, the movie had audiences rubbing their eyes in disbelief. What did they just see?
The movie stars Alexander Skarsgard as an author trapped in a vacation from hell and horror queen Mia Goth as a sultry fan-turned-manipulator who pushes him over the edge, all set in a county that allows the rich to create clones that take brutal punishments for the rich’s crimes. The R-rated Infinity Pool is getting a theatrical release from Neon starting Friday. But the cut shown at Sundance was unrated, hence all of the talk out of the festival about the sex and violence.
The man behind it all is a shy and unassuming Canadian from Toronto, who happens to be the son of iconic filmmaker David Cronenberg.
“I’m a complete hermit. I don’t normally crave human company but it felt really good to be around actual people,” Cronenberg remarks about Sundance. Cronenberg’s previous film, 2020’s Possessor, also debuted at Sundance and provoked audiences with an uncompromising vision of dystopia and body horror.
In between Pool’s debut at Sundance and its theatrical opening, The Hollywood Reporter grabbed Cronenberg for a quick chat about not telling audiences what to think, why “penis shoots out of a vagina” is something you’ll see on screen but not in his script, his own vacation from the hell, and the inevitable comparisons to his dad.
How did you take in the reaction to your film coming out of Sundance?
It was incredibly exciting. I always assume that everyone will only hate my films and obviously this isn’t for everyone, but it has been largely quite positive online, much to my surprise.
What feelings were you hoping to evoke from audience with this film?
I don’t like to answer that questions because to me, when you make a movie, the last creative act is done by the audience. I think that watching a film is so subjective, exploring a film is so subjective, that I don’t want to really interpret my films or to tell people what to think about before they see them. Part of the pleasure of this film, or at least watching films in general, is having a chance to interpret them and explore them. So I don’t like to force my own interpretation on a film right at the start. Maybe two years down the road, that may give me a chance to change my mind if I turns out I was wrong and my own interpretation was incredibly stupid.
Whose decision was it to show the unrated cut at Sundance?
It was a group decision. I obviously was pushing for it and got support from Neon and everybody else.
Will that cut be released on Blu-ray or in some fashion?
There is a plan for it. I don’t know where we’ve landed with it but I know there is something in the works.
So obviously you shot a lot of stuff that is not in the commercial release and stuff that can’t be shown because of the ratings. When you were shooting some of these scenes, you must have known that would be cut, right?
Well, I wouldn’t say we shot a lot of stuff that isn’t in it. A surprising amount of stuff got through, to be honest. It’s not a fundamentally different film. There are a few changes. There’s a few interesting shots that are in the R version that are not in the unrated version. I wouldn’t say it’s as dramatically different as you might expect. I supervised both cuts.
The ratings issue with NC-17 is generally specifically a US theatrical issue because of the way that ratings work here. In a lot of territories, there is no problem. I can’t see in the UK or in France there being any issues with ratings for this film. You make the film you want to make. You’re pragmatic about it, ‘cuz I want people to see it, I want people to see it in theaters, I want it to get the best release possible. You have to be pragmatic about it when you’re in film because there are so many weird forces shaping what you’re doing.
I’m actually lucky to be able to start with the version of the film that I want to make without considering those things, to have a director’s cut. If I need to make a few tweaks for the release, then it is what it is.
At what point as a filmmaker do you self-censor yourself and say “There is no point in shooting this because it won’t be seen?“
I never do. Because it will be seen. (Laughs.)
Is that Alexander’s penis we see on screen in the masturbation scene or is that a penis double? Or a prosthetic?
It’s a prosthetic. It’s just a very good fake penis made by Dan Martin, our FX artist.
Let’s talk about the orgy scene. It’s the second big orgy scene in two months, after Babylon. How hard is it to shoot something like that?
I keep getting questions about that. It’s really like shooting like any other scene. I think people come into these discussions going, “How did you get the actors to do that?” But the thing is that the actors have all read the script, they all know what’s involved in the scene. When you’re actually shooting the scene, it’s all very meticulously planned and shot. We had an intimacy coordinator on the film and we rehearsed with and all the actors and we had discussions with people about what they were comfortable with, what they boundaries were, and with all of that in mind, we designed a series of shots for the orgy scene and rehearsed them. When it came to shoot, it was like like choreographing a dance or a fight scene. It’s not at all weird.
When you’re writing a scene like that, at the script stage, do you go into a high level of detail? Or is it like an action movie where you write, “There’s a fight,” and a stunt coordinator designs that? Does your script have an actual line that says, “Penis shoots out of a vagina?”
No. It doesn’t. (Laughs.) It really depends. Sometimes it may have a particular image I‘m stuck on. Sometimes it’s done through those rehearsals and the process with the actors there. You’re upfront about the kind of scene it is with the actors so there’s an element of comfort they have with the material going into it and it’s a collaborative process. When it comes to those make up effects and hallucinatory effects, those are all a collaboration with Dan, (cinematographer) Karim Hussein, (producer) Rob Cotterill, people from my core team.
There may be a paragraph that says, “images deforming” or “nightmarish flashes of imagery.” And that’s sort of code for my team that we are going explore a bunch of in-camera practical effects and makeup effects and that we are going brainstorm this kind of impressionistic dreamscape. Because it’s all in-camera practical work.
What was the process of casting Mia Goth? Was the role written expressly for her?
I never write for particular actors because you never know who’s going to want to do it. You never know who’s going to be available, you never know who’s going to have the right passport. There’s a million practical factors when you’re casting and stars have to align a certain way. Mia is someone I was excited about for years before working with her. I just think she is one of those actors who sears though the screen and had that hard to articulate thing where she is always exciting and she never makes boring choices. She was working on Pearl at the time and I sent her the script and I was very lucky she was interested. From my perspective it was surprisingly easy.
The cinematography of this was very specific. What went into the look?
There were two discussions for that. There’s the conventional, filmmaking — what lenses we’re going to use, how we’re going to shoot a regular dramatic scene — discussions. Usually I shotlist the film with Karim Hussein, before we have actors or sets. We do a theoretical shotlist, scene-by-scene, not knowing the realities of the shoot but as a way to discuss the cinematic language. How the framing is going to work, how the lenses are going to work, that kind of thing.
For the more hallucinatory stuff, that is something we’ve been developing together over the course of three films, if you count the short film we did before Possessor. None of the techniques in Infinity Pool are the same as the ones we used in Possessor, there is no complete overlap. There is a similar element to them in that it is practical in-camera work where we’re deforming the image using diopters gels and lens flares.
We tend to rephotograph it — we project the image and then shoot it again, and again, and again, using different glass, different gels, so that you have the same shot sometimes rephotographed six different times with different versions of image distortions. And when I get into the editing room, with James Vandewater in this case. It’s a fairly deranged process because you’re cutting between different versions of each shot, you’re building the glitches out in a frame by frame way, almost like stop-motion.
You use different frames, you play with the order of the frames, and it changes how you perceive them. There’s a bit of a mad alchemy to the editing process once I was one with Karim.
You said you’ve been working on this script for years. What was the inspiration for it and how did it evolve over time?
It started as a short story and it was really just the first execution scene. At the time, I was interested in identity and punishment and a scene were someone was watching an exact double that believes its guilty of the crime. That was the whole thing.
I did draw on some experiences I had, the one time I did go to a resort about 20 years ago, for when I started building out the particulars of the resort compound, the barbed wire fencing and so on. A lot of that was taken from reality. It was vacation that I found to be particularly menacing.
Geez, where did you go?
It was the Dominican Republic and it was very surreal. They would bus you in in the middle of the night. You wouldn’t see any of the surrounding country at all because it was dark. They just dropped you into a compound surrounded by razor wire fence, it was much like in the film. There was a fake town where you could shop, but not outside the compound. There was a Chinese restaurant, there was a horrible disco.
The scene with the ATV on the beach, that actually happened, and then at the end of the week, they bus you back to the airport during the day, and you see this incredible poverty surrounding the resort. That contrast is horrible but also completely surreal. You realize you’ve never been to the actual country.
Where were you? Was it some embassy grounds for some kind of global tourist nation? Was it some alternate dimension that had broken through in this host country? Was it a tacky Disneyland mirror of reality? That to me was alarming but also felt like a great setting for characters not dealing with conventional consequences.
Comparisons to your father are inevitable. Not just because of you being filmmakers but because the genres you work in. Is that something that bothers you or is that something you embrace?
Neither, really. It was inevitable when I got into film that people would make those comparisons. For me, I’m just working with material that honestly is just interesting to me. I’m following my own creative impulses and creative preoccupations. If there is some overlap with his interest, it’s probably natural because we’re related. But I don’t think about it when I’m working. To either embrace it or actively reject it would be defining my career in relation to his career and I just wouldn’t be able to work in any honest or interesting way if I cared about that.
I’m trying to imagine you two at family dinners and talking about how to make a head explode.
I get the family dinners question a lot. I don’t know what it is about family dinners but it’s all pretty normal.
What do you want to do next? Do want to continue to the push the boundaries of sci-fi and horror? Or do want to jump into the IP game?
I’m sort of doing both. I have a space horror movie film called Dragon that I’ve been working on for a number of years that might happen. And I’m also adapting a novel called SuperCannes as a limited series. It’s not really sci-fi or horror, it’s more of strange detective story. I’m not sure if either of those things will happen ultimately but that’s what I’m working on.
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