In no time Brandon Cronenberg (son of) has managed to free himself from his father's shackles and has built himself a solid reputation. Infinity Pool is only his third film, but genre fans with a taste for the unexpected and unconventional have been anticipating his newest film with proportionate amounts of glee and excitement. And once again Brandon doesn't disappoint. While treading more familiar ground this time around, Cronenberg has no trouble making this story about clones/doubles his own and delivers one of the most interesting films of the year.
Somewhat similar to his dad, Brandon has lodged his niche somewhere in between sci-fi and horror. What sets him apart is his signature style, which makes sure his work won't be confused for more generic genre fare, nor be seen as a derivative of his father's oeuvre. It's a tricky balance to maintain and no doubt a challenge Brandon will be facing with every new film he makes, but so far he's handled himself remarkably well. On paper, Infinity Pool looks like a film his father could've directed, but while watching there's no doubt this is the work of Brandon.
Infinity Pool is certainly not the first film to dig its claws into the implications of cloning/making body doubles, but because it's not so much a narrative film as it is a visceral experience, that's not too big of a deal. There are some interesting twists that take the story in less commonly seen directions and Cronenberg does give you quite a bit of meat to chew on if you care for it. At the same time, you're free to ignore all these underlying questions and just submerge yourself in the nightmare that is presented. To pull off both seamlessly is a very neat trick.
James and Em are on a resort vacation in a fictional island nation. James hopes to find inspiration there, as he's been struggling to write his second book. One of the guests at the resort recognizes James and she reveals to him she's a pretty big fan of his first book. She invites James and Em on a little trip outside of the resort, to which they reluctantly agree. On their way back James is at the wheel when the car crashes into a local farmer. They get rid of the body, but the next day police are taking them in for questioning. They confess to the crime, the only way to escape punishment is to let a body double take the fall.
Brandon injects his film with visual dread from the very first shots, which is quite a feat if you consider the first act consists almost entirely of sunny vacation resort scenes. The framing is exquisite all the way through, the use of color and light is sublime and there are several more abstract scenes scattered throughout that are dripping with atmosphere. What's most impressive though is that the film never lets up. It never switches to a more narrative mode, from start to finish the cinematography feels polished and distinct, establishing itself as an integral part of the experience. And that's exactly how I like it.
The score also plays a vital part in setting the mood. Though the music itself may not be all that memorable, the dark and brooding ambient soundscapes do their part in establishing an unsettling atmosphere. They work perfectly together with the visuals to create a homogeneous and tailored audiovisual experience, which becomes the driving force behind Infinity Pool. It may not be the most original or daring mix of elements, ominous rumbles are the go-to solution for creating eerie moods, but considering the current lack of competition it's a critique that carries very little weight.
Cronenberg's reputation is growing with each new film he makes, which is obvious from the actors he was able to land for Infinity Pool. Not a triple-A cast for sure, but the two leads are respected performers who've earned their stripes. Alexander Skarsgård is pretty impressive as the disheveled writer trying to live up to his wife's expectations, Mia Goth is ... Mia Goth. I'm not a big fan of hers and I have issues whenever she becomes unhinged (which happens a couple of times here), but it's not quite as bad as in her other films. The rest of the cast is solid too, though they get fewer opportunities to shine.
The first third of the film is still pretty conventional, with Brandon taking him time to set the stage. The body double angle came as quite a surprise (as I don't read up before watching something), and from there on out chaos ensues. It becomes increasingly more difficult to keep track of what is happening, but as long as you let yourself be guided you should be fine. I'm not sure if the finale offers clear answers to all the questions brought up, nor if everything makes actual sense in the end, but the ending felt right and I was actually glad the last 20 minutes isn't spent on giving meaning or trying to explain everything that came before. Your mileage may vary of course.
I have a slight preference for Possessor, but ultimately Brandon Cronenberg's films are all pretty close in terms of quality. Infinity Pool fits in perfectly with his earlier films and helps to establish Brandon as one of the most talented genre directors of his time. The mix of sci-fi and horror is interesting, and the narrative is challenging, but ultimately it's the oppressive and enveloping audiovisual experience that grounds Infinity Pool. Three films into his oeuvre and Brandon Cronenberg hasn't let me down yet. Here's to hoping he can continue his streak for years to come.