Brandon Cronenberg’s nightmares are getting increasingly personal. His first film, Antiviral, was a nightmarish satire of extreme celebrity culture where fans can buy the same illness that affects their favourite celebrities. His new film is about how the lack of empathy of the wealthy.
Cronenberg is an observer, not a celebrity himself; he’s still the son of one of Canada’s most important filmmakers – David Cronenberg – from whom he takes the same interest in exploring the limits of body horror, but whose privilege enabled him to hang out in the same milieu as some of the young, wealthy and careless of Toronto.
After Possessor’s critical success, the young filmmaker’s expectations were high. How can he follow up and topple that dystopian terror? He can’t, but you can see the question was lingering in his mind when he was writing Infinity Pool, a film about a one-hit-wonder writer, with writer’s block, James (played by Alexander Skarsgård), having a break in a luxury resort with his wealthy partner, Em (Cleopatra Coleman), who supports his lifestyle.
The resort is in a fictional country anywhere in Southern Europe/North Africa (in reality, the film was shot in Croatia). It’s portrayed as a white-privileged idea of what a developing country is, which would be problematic if that wasn’t Cronenberg’s point.
The plot moves when James meets the young Gabi (Mia Goth), supposedly a fan. She invites the couple to some adventures outside of the protected compound. Driving drunk on the way back, they accidentally run over and kill a local. Because of their status, they can circumvent the country’s law of the death penalty at the hand of the victim’s firstborn son. Their answer is to pay to create an exact clone of themselves with the same memories that will be executed instead.
From here, James loses track of his morality. He tries to leave the country with Em, but because he can’t find his passport hes is left behind to hang out with Gabi and her posse of rich, bored sociopaths. They hang around the protected walls of the resort and often step outside for a good dose of the old ultra-violence, which they can scoff at by paying the price and watching themselves be executed in euphoric entertainment.
The problem is that the descent into madness of the film’s second act falls short of a profound commentary beyond a basic criticism of the rich. Is the excessive cruelty, opulence and entitlement shocking if no one seems to address it? James goes from accepting this new reality, even happily participating in the shenanigans, as quickly as he regrets his actions, but does he really understand the consequences of those actions?
At times, Infinity Pool relies too much on James’ point of view to explore the horrors of the entitled. Cronenberg probably needed a counterbalance, a view from the outside: a moment where we step out of that world and see that their milieu of no consequences actually has consequences in the real world.
Still, Infinite Pool makes for tremendous, intense viewing. Cronenberg remains one of the most exciting voices in the Canadian film scene, just like his father, and Skarsgård and Goth make it all worth it. The Swede knows how to hop from the morose ennui of a writer to the absolute euphoria of a spoiled man. Goth, though, deserves to be in the conversation for best actress of her generation. Not many actors can go so seemingly from a star-gazed fan in one scene to seducing minx in the next, and finally to emotionless sociopath, making all these traits in the same character work. The final scene is a powerhouse of a performance from Goth that shows we haven’t seen the end of her range.
Infinity Pool is the best kind of good film. The flawed one. It has a million great ideas, but not the one that can put all of them together.
Verdict: 4 out of 5
For fans of body horror, nightmare satires, and Mia Goth. It’s not for everybody, but if you’re at the centre of that Venn diagram, you’ll love this.
How a filmmaker portrays the aftermath of a terrorist attack says a lot about the kind of person they are, but little about what kind of artist they want to be. There is Hollywood’s preferred approach, which is overly emotional and preachy. Still, this positions a traumatic attack as the background for the characters to showcase their heroic spirit. And then there’s the one approach Kathryn Bigelow introduced in 2012 with Zero Dark Thirty: methodical and seemingly emotionless, the film lets the trauma linger while it searches for a cathartic moment of justice.
Cédric Jimenez’s November is from the second school.
Right after the November 13 (2015) attacks in Paris, 130 innocent people died in a combined attack that targeted six different places, including the concert venue Bataclan, where 90 people died. The film follows the special team, led by Fred (Jean du Jardin), assigned to capture the men responsible for the attack before they commit another atrocity.
Jimenez’s style is cold and analytical. There is no time lost developing any of the characters. Everyone is so focused on the investigation that their whole lives are taken up by the task. This is a respectful take, but it also elevates the patriotic sentiment of “our good men on the mission” without being distracted by the emotional toll it puts on people in the mission.
This may sound impersonal, and for the most part it is. But also elevates the drama on the rare occasions Jimenez and his writers let the emotions in . Example are when the young captain Inès Moreau (Anaïs Demoustier) makes a mistake that sets back the investigation, or when it’s evident how she feels about the treatment of Samia (Lyna Khoudri), an informant who puts her life on the line to help the authorities.
But Jimenez isn’t interested in the little personal thing, prefering to revel the the catharsis of delivering justice. The main difference between his film and Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty is that the latter goes so deep on the obsession of her main character, portrayed as someone whose life doesn’t exist outside of her mission, that when the mission is finally over, her emptiness reflects America’s. It leaves the audience asking, “Was it all worth it?” It’s an unexpectedly profound moment.
November has none of that. When the film is over, it’s over. No questions posed, no takes to consider. Subtitle cards at the end let us know what happened to most of the people involved (particularly Samia, whom the film admits is the moral core of its story), but apart from that November is just this:a procedural drama about the right people doing the right thing. Who are they? Heroes. Heroes can be tedious, but they get the job done.
Verdict: 3 out of 5
For fans of police work with no shenanigans. Add some talking heads, and November could’ve been a documentary.