Holidays in the sun
Brandon Cronenberg continues to follow in his father’s bloody footsteps in his latest, part knowing Nepo-baby exercise in body horror, part satire on the excesses of a morally bankrupt global elite
Dir Brandon Cronenberg, US 2023 On UK release
With a surname like Cronenberg come many expectations in the film industry, and with his latest effort, Infinity Pool, Brandon Cronenberg once again shows that the worm-infested apple does not fall far from the body horror tree planted by his father.
On an extravagant and exclusive island resort, we are introduced to the Fosters – unsuccesful writer James (Alexander Skarsgård) and his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman), the latter being the daughter of the wealthy publisher who published James’s only book to date.
Idyllic and luxurious as the surroundings may seem, we soon learn that they are in stark contrast to the rest of the island, which is plagued by crime and a deeply corrupt police force that gladly accepts bribes to ignore injustices. This juxtaposition becomes even more glaring once James and Em become acquainted with another affluent pair, Gabi (Mia Goth) and Alban (Jalil Lespert).
As the two couples begin to spend time together, it soon becomes clear that something is ‘off’ with the hedonistic Gabi and Alban, and it is not long before James and Em find themselves in serious trouble after an intoxicated James hits a local man with their car.
This is where the film starts to go well and truly off the rails in true Cronenbergian fashion with increasingly dizzying cinematography and grotesque body horror. Beyond the imagery being visually confrontational – graphic sex and violence, gore and bodily fluids – there is also a darkly satirical undercurrent saturating the film, as it comments on the levels of depravity and nihilism the one per cent can afford to indulge in, not to mention being able to afford to deal with the consequences of their unhinged actions in a manner that casts ethics entirely aside.
While the social commentary of Infinity Pool raises very valid questions about humanity and the price someone is willing to pay in order to rub elbows – and, as this is a Cronenberg film, other bits as well – with the upper echelons of society, the film mostly just scratches the sordid surface here in order to shock the audience, which makes the whole thing somewhat less impactful than it could have been had the points it raises been explored in greater detail.
That being said, it’s still worth a watch. Not only are some of the visuals genuine nightmare fuel, the performances of Skarsgård and Goth in particular stand out, thanks to his ability to be at once vulnerable and unhinged, and her commitment to being as uncompromising and unafraid as possible in the roles she chooses.
Where Cronenberg senior has seemingly reached a more philosophical point in his storytelling – compared to the disturbing body horror that cemented his reputation as one of the most inventive horror filmmakers of all time – Brandon continues to show that he is more than capable of creating his own unique hellscapes embracing nightmarish narratives and grotesque visuals. It will be interesting to see how the younger Cronenberg’s career unfolds.
Come Back Lucy
Dir Paul Harrison, UK 1978 Network, £20 (DVD)
Come Back Lucy was one of several time-slip children’s novels televised in the 1970s and 1980s, including A Traveller in Time, Tom’s Midnight Garden, Moondial and The Children of Green Knowe. There are familiar tropes: a lonely, rather withdrawn child being sent to stay with strangers in an unfamiliar house and having a paranormal encounter, usually with something or someone from the past.
Orphan Lucy (Emma Bakhle), who is maybe around 12, has lived a quiet and old-fashioned life with her elderly great aunt Olive.
The story starts with her aunt’s funeral, and Lucy being sent to stay with distant cousins in a noisy and relentlessly “modern” family – the three over-lively children call their right-on but incompetent parents Pete and Gwen.
The weirdness begins with the opening titles over music that sets your teeth on edge: we see the back of the head of a girl who is looking in a mirror; the mirror girl moves away but the head doesn’t – and when the head turns, there is no face. In the attic Lucy sees another girl in a mirror, who says: “I’m Alice, and I live here.” Alice (Bernadette Windsor) takes Lucy back to her own time in the house, 1873 – a century before the original novel by Pamela Sykes was published.
Initially Lucy enjoys spending time in the Victorian home, a respite from the boisterous family she’s been thrown into; in many ways it’s more like the quiet life she lived with her aunt. But as the story progresses we realise that Alice is manipulative and malicious; she tries to force Lucy to stay with her rather than returning to her own time. Both girls realise that Lucy can travel back by looking into a mirror – so Alice turns the mirrors around. In the final episode the story comes to a dramatic and frightening climax when Alice persuades Lucy to walk out onto the frozen lake in a nearby park and tries to trap her forever by killing her.
Come Back Lucy is certainly watchable, but it doesn’t quite have the haunting and memorable qualities of similar time-slip series.
Extras include present-day interviews with director Paul Harrison, writers Colin Shindler and Gail Renard, and one of the children, François Evans, and a conversation between Emma Bakhle and Bernadette Windsor.
David V Barrett