One of the most envelope-pushing movies to ever unspool at Sundance was injected like a drug into audiences’ eyes as Infinity Pool, the latest mind-warping outing from Brandon Cronenberg, hit the Midnight section Saturday night.
Neon is opening Pool in theaters Jan. 27 with an R-rating but the cut that screened at Sundance was NC-17. There were no notable walkouts, so that meant the crowd fully ingested the cocktail that not only featured skull-crushing violence and rich people behaving badly with clones, but also doses of blood, sperm and other bodily secretions — real or imagined — coming in and out of various body parts.
“There’s a lot of conformity and monotony when you read scripts,” said star Alexander Skarsgard at the post-Q&A with the cast and filmmaker. “You’ve just seen the movie. It’s just crazy, crazy … Love it or hate it, but it’s rare to experience something like this as an actor.”
Or as a viewer.
Written and directed by Cronenberg, the son of horror filmmaker David Cronenberg, Pool tells of an author (Skarsgard), who, after stalling out with his first book, visits a posh resort with his rich wife to find inspiration. There he meets a fan, played by the Pearl breakout and horror queen Mia Goth, and her husband. Soon enough a double date day trip outside the compound has the audience seeing the first envelope-pushing scene — a close up of a penis getting masturbated and ejaculating — followed by one deadly hit-and-run accident, and the film is off to the races.
The film’s fictional country, a vaguely Eastern European and Adriatic Sea locale, has a legal system for foreigners where for the right price, you can have a clone made to take your place in the execution line. Which is what the author does, putting him down a perverse path with Goth’s character and her coterie of rich friends who abuse the cloning system for such fun as break-ins and kidnappings, all the while indulging in a local hallucinatory drug as well as drug-fueled orgies. Our protagonist descends into madness as he horrifyingly and gleefully watches himself get executed again and again.
The movie has a dream-like 1970s vibe to it, via its color palette and the editing choices, particularly the hallucinatory sequences. And with the body horror on display, comparisons to the elder Cronenberg are hard not to make.
“Fighting a naked version of myself to the death and then being breastfed by Mia,” said Skarsgard in response to the moderator’s question of what was the most memorable day of shooting, as the audience tittered. “That’s not something you get to do very often as an actor.”
“We had an intimacy coordinator … because God knows there was a lot of intimacy that needed coordinating,” said actor John Ralston, also on stage with the cast and who plays one of Goth’s character’s rich friends. “It was a wonderful world of prosthetics and seeing what was created. And what could come out of different orifices. So the artistic element was quite lovely.”
The originality and creativity of Cronenberg, which included the pushing of boundaries, is what attracted the stars to the project. Goth was shooting Pearl in New Zealand and originally wasn’t going to read any scripts that were coming her way. But then she saw Cronenberg’s name pop up. And then she reflected on her films X, Pearl, and the new film she was being offered.
“All these characters were free and unhinged, and the fact that I was able to continue exploring these really wild characters felt like a real gift,” Goth said. “It was an immediate yes.”
Cronenberg, meanwhile, said the movie had thematic connections to his previous films (Possessor and Antiviral) but that this one had different tricks and took thing further.
Skarsgard felt so strongly about the material that he became an executive producer. “It’s an indie film and I wanted to do anything I could to help Brandon visualize it,” Skarsgard said.
Skarsgard joked that he felt there was a little bait-and-switch given the title of the film. The actor, who works closely and frequently with his stunt double, Mark Slaughter, was in Ireland shooting his Viking epic, The Northman, and whose climax involved him fighting to the death while naked and in the harsh cold.
“I get the script, it’s called Infinity Pool, it takes place at a resort, and I was like, ‘Mark, I got a fucking amazing job for us. It’s going to be warm and toasty and its going to be lovely.’ Cut to: Six months later, it’s snowing when I’m shooting that naked scene.”