Tag Archives: Brandon Cronenberg

Swim At Your Own Risk

Infinity Pool

by Hope Madden

Brandon Cronenberg + Mia Goth + Alexander Skarsgård … for a very specific set of people, the sum there is hell yes.

Riding my favorite wave in horror – that rich people are unspeakably diabolical – writer/director Cronenberg takes us on a strange journey through privilege, debauchery, entitlement, boredom, narcissism, psychotropic drugs and more in his trippy new flick, Infinity Pool.

Skarsgård is James Foster, a writer of very little renown who’s vacationing on a fictional island nation with his wealthy wife (Cleopatra Coleman). They’re bored, but as luck would have it, James’s number one fan Gabi (Goth) and her husband have vowed to show them a good time.

Cronenberg’s ultimate concept is clearly, wildly his own, but moments sometimes call to mind ideas from last year’s Speak No Evil, as well as Society, Kill List, Hour of the Wolf, and A Serbian Film (no, not that part). Still, the film never feels borrowed. Uncomfortable, yes. Borrowed? No.

James represents the regular Joe – yes, a very good-looking version, but regular, nonetheless. And no matter how long he plays the part, he’s an outsider. The truly wealthy are alien. Beyond the sci-fi insanity, beyond the outright body horror, this is the most horrific element of the film because feels honest. It touches a nerve.

In 2020, Jeff Bezos racked up more than 16k in parking tickets. Because, why not? He wanted to park there. Once you reach a certain tax bracket – which is the one where you pay no taxes at all – no rules apply. And that does not create better people.  

It’s fascinating and refreshing, this particular approach to the story. These particular villains. And Goth proves once again to be a seductive menace and a force to be reckoned with.

There are certain scenes in this – one in a group holding cell at the island prison, for instance – that are as insightful, impressive and memorably horrific as anything any Cronenberg has filmed.

It’s hard to believe this is only Brandon Cronenberg’s third feature. It does not pack the visceral punch of 2020’s Possessor, but it is a satisfyingly surreal piece of class warfare and an outstanding way for the genre to kick off 2023.

Repo Woman


by Hope Madden

It’s been eight years since Brandon Cronenberg swam familiar family waters with his feature debut, Antiviral. He is back with another cerebral, body-conscious fantasy thriller and my first thought is dayyuuuummmmn…

Son of the master of corporeal scifi horror David Cronenberg, Brandon appears to come by his fixations naturally. With Possessor, he travels along with a high end assassin (Andrea Riseborough) who uses a piece of tech (inserted directly into the squishy brain, naturally) to body hop from one mark to the next. She enters one body, takes it over, executes the hit and moves on.

That last part has started to cause some issues, though.

As it was with Antival, much of the world building here is left to our imagination and the film is stronger for it. Possessor’s internal logic is solid enough to be the entire plot. The context is impeccably rendered, providing the most disturbing landscape for Riseborough and her primary avatar, played by the nicely understated Christopher Abbott.

All of it proves an incredible piece of misdirection for what the film is actually accomplishing.

For much of the running time, the chameleonic and underappreciated Riseborough’s Tasya Vos plays an observant interloper—exactly what we are in this weirdly meticulous and recognizable future world. Showy jabs about privacy, appropriation, gender definition and capitalism are simultaneously clever and intentionally distracting.

Cronenberg’s created a gorgeous techno world, its lulling disorientation punctuated by some of the most visceral horror to make it to the screen this year. There is something admirably confident about showing your influences this brazenly.

Credit Cronenberg, too, for the forethought to cast the two leads as females (Jennifer Jason Leigh playing Riseborough’s boss). The theme of the film, if driven by males, would have been passe and obvious. With females, though, it’s not only more relevant and vital, but more of a gut punch when the time comes to cash the check.

Possessor is a meditation on identity, sometimes very obviously so, but the underlying message takes that concept and stabs you in your still-beating heart with it.

Weirdly Pro-Viral

By Hope Madden

If you could catch Kim Kardashian’s cold, would you?

This is the intriguing concept behind writer/director Brandon Cronenberg’s seething commentary on celebrity obsession, Antiviral. Young Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) works for a clinic dealing in a very specific kind of treatment. They harvest viruses from willing celebrities, encrypt them (so they can’t spread – no money if you can’t control the spread), and sell the illnesses to obsessed fans who derive some kind of bodily communion with their adored by way of a shared herpes virus. Gross.

But the ambitious Syd pirates these viruses by injecting himself first, before the encryption. Eventually, his own nastiness-riddled blood is more valuable than he is, and he has to find a way out of quite a pickle. Maybe vitamin C?

As unfair as it may be to compare the work of a son to that of the father, Brandon Cronenberg seems to invite it. He obviously does not worry about suffering by comparison, treading as he does on ground so strongly associated with his father. Antiviral is not just a horror film, but a corporeal horror – a subgenre David Cronenberg basically owns.

Antiviral plays a bit like Videodrome – Cronenberg the Elder’s commentary on his era’s preoccupation with media. In both films, a salesman becomes as obsessed as his clients and watches his own body turn monstrous because of it. Junior inserts celebrity for technology, making his effort more timely, but he lacks the biting humor that elevated his father’s work.

Still, Brandon’s feature debut exposes an assured style uncommon for such an early effort. Visually chilly – all washed out whites with splashes of blood red – and emotionally distant, the world of Antiviral is as antiseptic as a hospital ward.

In lieu of character development, the film is filled with grotesquely fascinating ideas. Unfortunately, the tale is ultimately superficial because its focus is so one-sided. The celebrity-obsessed that populate the film are parasites, even cannibals, but the celebrity is inanimate. While I’m sure there’s a point being made there, the final image lacks any real punch because, while we’re made to revile the non-celebrity population and its vampiric adoration, we have no sense that they feed off anything human at all, so who cares?

Had the filmmaker explored the concept of celebrity – either to clarify their equal responsibility in cultivating this culture, or to hint at their corrupted humanity – the film would have felt fully formed rather than just very clever.