It’s the collaboration horror fiends have been dying for. Infinity Pool brings together the awesome Mia Goth, a scream queen (Suspiria, X, and Pearl) blessed with the acting chops of any current Oscar nominee, and Brandon Cronenberg, the writer-director who freaked out audiences with Antiviral and Possessor. To be sure, Infinity Pool—the result of the first team-up between the British actress and the son of legendary director, David Cronenberg—delivers the mind-blowing, squirm-inducing, cover-your-eyes goods, and then some.
Now in theaters, Infinity Pool centers on James (Alexander Skarsgard) and Em Foster (Cleopatra Coleman), a wealthy, struggling couple who travel to a ritzy foreign resort for a much-needed vacation. He authored a badly reviewed book and can’t muster a sophomore effort, and it’s dragged down the couple’s marriage. The trouble starts when they meet Gabi (Goth) and Alban (Jalil Lespert), and join them on a taboo trip off the heavily guarded premises. That results in James hitting a man with the group’s car, and in this country that means the death penalty, with the punishment meted out by the victim’s son. Only, in this poor place, the rich can buy their way out of trouble–by paying for a clone to be made and die for them. The catch? You have to watch. The question? Is it the clone or the real person who actually dies?
Now all but invincible, James falls prey to his worst instincts and self-doubts, and he’s not the only one at the resort in the same position. Cue, well, everything you can imagine: grisly murders, goopy resurrections, lurid orgies, mutilated body parts, dripping bodily fluids, adults breastfeeding and more, much of it captured in unflinching close-ups and driven home with a loud, driving score. Infinity Pool earns its NC-17 rating and a likely place in the body horror film pantheon. The A.V. Club caught up with Goth (energetic and detailed) and Cronenberg (soft-spoken and detailed) for a conversation about the film. Here’s what they had to say.
The A.V. Club: What’s your take on why moviegoers love horror? What’s the pleasure people take in being scared by a movie?
Mia Goth: People are desperate to feel something. With the horror genre, one of the many reasons why it’s so popular is because it’s almost a surefire way to arouse something within you. It’s our modern-day version of going to a gladiator game, for example. It’s an experience. It’s something that people can enjoy together as a community and have that shared experience with one another. In our day-to-day life, that’s becoming increasingly rare, actually. You wake up in the morning—you’re on your phone, you’re in the car, or you might be in your office—and you can quite easily fall into a state of constant numbness. That’s one of the reasons why.
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Brandon Cronenberg: There’s a catharsis to it. I’m sure adrenaline plays a certain part in it, but to go through this process of fear and then release is cleansing for people. With horror, they can operate it as a laboratory to explore certain difficult emotions in a safe environment. You can go to dark places and connect with aspects of the human psyche, as well as the emotional spectrum, that you might want to avoid in real life. In that context, art becomes very enriching. We’re richer people if we explore all aspects of the human experience.
AVC: Mia, back to you on that. From the actor side of that equation, you’ve come back to horror multiple times in your young career. Do you like to scare people? Do you like to go to dark places as a performer? Is it a bit of both, and maybe even more?
MG: I don’t necessarily like to scare people. To be honest, I’m never thinking about an audience when I’m doing my work. I try to stay out of the result entirely, of what the film may be. If you start doing that, with your work and what you’re trying to achieve, you’re being motivated by the wrong reasons. A lot of the films that I do—even this, for example—I don’t necessarily consider them to be horror movies. The genre is ever-expanding, and it’s starting to include various films. It’s where I’ve been able to find the best roles, with a lot of opportunities for me as a performer and an actor, to explore various facets of myself. I like challenging material. I enjoy characters and directors that push me. It’s also an incredibly thrilling and freeing experience being able to exercise these facets of myself in a safe space.
AVC: The arguably way-too-easy description of this movie is “White Lotus Goes to Hell.” Brandon, how would you describe it, if you’re going to try to explain this movie to somebody in a nutshell?
BC: That “way-too-easy” one was me.
AVC: I know!
BC: The White Lotus comparison is interesting. There is this wave of films that are in some ways connected by theme and setting right now. That was completely unintentional on my part, because you start making a film years before you actually get to shoot it. It takes so long to develop it and it’s just a coincidence that you’re getting these waves of similar things, two asteroid movies in one year, or whatever. No one’s planning that, it’s just how things fall into place. I’m wary of pushing audiences to interpret my films in a particular way off the top, just as I’m beginning to release them. To me, the final creative act in art is done by the audience. It’s a process of injecting your own interpretation and your own self into something. The experience of artists is so subjective, and it’s richer if you have a chance to explore it on your own. I like the idea that someone might come up with a better interpretation of the film than I have, and therefore make me look good.
AVC: Mia, you mentioned that you appreciate directors who can push you a little bit. How did Brandon push you? And Brandon what did she bring to the table for you?
MG: Brandon’s an incredible director, and I knew it instantly. When we were on set, Brandon gave me a lot of freedom. That’s how he was able to let me explore this character, find out who she is, and figure out her placement in this world. I felt so safe with Brandon. I felt safe and vulnerable enough with him to where I was able to sometimes make it big and make a fool of myself doing bad takes, then I was able to refine it and get into a better spot. He also offered parameters, but gave me enough space to find it.
BC: I was going to say that I didn’t push Mia at all. To me, the hardest part about casting is picking an actor. There are some actors who are immediately compelling and fascinating. I wanted to work with Mia for years because she’s one of those performers, to me, who was never making a boring choice on screen and always coming at it with a certain type of energy. You cast someone like that and plug them into your character. My characters are boring to me by the time we’re actually shooting the film, because the development has been so long and they’ve gone to sleep for me. I want someone to wake them up, to imbue them with their own energy, and to surprise me. I see a lot of my job as guiding the scene, to a certain degree. You’re always editing in your head as you’re shooting, and making sure that you’re going to get the scene that you want. With the right actor, you want to give them space to explore and not use a heavy hand. People say, “How did you get this performance out of an actor?” I don’t work that way. It’s much more collaborative and about giving room to perform.
AVC: Brandon, what is next for you? And Mia, I just have this feeling that you’re heading toward the director’s chair. Am I right? You’ve written a movie? Is the next step directing?
MG: No, I love being an actor.
BC (looking shocked by Goth’s reply): You don’t have to say that, it’s fine.
MG: No, it’s true. I don’t have any ambitions to direct. I love directors and I’m very director-driven when picking my projects. As of right now, I just want to continue being an actor, develop my craft, and work on things that I find exciting.
BC: But you are involved in some interesting writing.
MG: I do enjoy writing (Goth co-wrote Pearl with Ti West). That’s something that I would love to continue and be a part of in my projects, for sure.
Brandon, you’re about to release this baby into the world. Do you have your next baby yet?
BC: Nothing for sure. I’m developing this series based on Super-Cannes, this J.G. Ballard book. I hope it goes. I’ve got a space movie called Dragon. Maybe that’ll go? I don’t know yet.