Sundance Film Festival 2023: ‘Infinity Pool’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Some writers can see different versions of other people but have difficulty understanding their identities. Writers write stories about other people because they don’t find their lives as interesting. They want things to happen for inspirational purposes, not because they want the actual experience. In Brandon Cronenberg’s Infinity Pool, James (Alexander Skarsgård) and Em Foster (Cleopatra Coleman) enjoy an all-inclusive beach vacation on the fictional island of La Tolqa. They meet another couple one evening, and things take a turn for the worst. After James gets into an accident, killing one of the locals, the secrets of the resort are uncovered. This twisted, sadistic, and quite bloody horror uniquely showcases Cronenberg’s talent. 

The concept is highlighted in the title and further explored as James meets Gabi (Mia Goth). By now, Goth has made a name for herself as an actor who takes on very eccentric female characters. James is an author whom Gabi loves, and she wants his attention. Not only does she want it, but she also holds his attention even though his wife is present. Goth and Skarsgård have a weird chemistry in this, but it’s intriguing. The more time Gabi and her husband spend with James and Em, they start to form a bond. Cronenberg also shows how tourists often neglect certain cultural traditions on their vacations because it’s strictly leisure. He uses the comfort of a “getaway” feeling to take his characters on a downward spiral of reckless violence and surreal horror.

Through some unique framing choices and beautiful cinematography by Karim Hussain, the technical aspects make the film worth watching. Cronenberg creates such uneasiness in a gorgeous resort from the beginning. From rotating the camera upside down to the sinister score creeping during conversations, the odd camera work places the viewer in a different mindset. The visuals suck you into the world he has created more than the narrative itself. It’s experimental and flashy in moments that are meant to confuse the viewer through the character of James, but the idea falls apart in the third act as it gets a bit repetitive. Cronenberg explores the infinite possibilities of someone’s character in this imaginary pool on this fictional island. In this case, Gabi does show James how to live a lavish, privileged life, but it ultimately comes with a price. 

Infinity Pool by David Cronenberg is a dark and twisted couples’ retreat that shows how tourists can be oblivious to their surroundings. It takes the notion of the wealthy and privileged selling themselves to an elite lifestyle. The relationship between Gabi and James slowly developed, but their peak came too late in the film to explore the meaning of the infinity pool. Goth and Skarsgård give solid performances, but it’s more style over substance when exploring the themes Cronenberg wanted to dive into. The technical aspects, strong visuals, and sexual encounters in the film are the components that make this experience intriguing because of how different it feels through the lens of Cronenberg. 

‘M3GAN’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

A new year means new movies, but January doesn’t always have the best track record. When horror movies are released this early in the year, they seem to have it rough. They’re not always great, but they’re still watchable. M3GAN, directed by Gerard Johnstone, is all the campy fun you would want from a slasher film, but it lacks in the kills. Megan is a “toy” that was created to pair with young children and be their long-term best friend. Constructing something so personal and intimate ultimately comes with a price. The “toy” is responsive to the child’s emotions, can get overprotective, and eventually have a mind of its own. Megan becomes a force to be reckoned with in this film because she learns from everyone around her. 

The first half of this film handled grief and trauma quite well. Young Cady (Violet McGraw) loses her parents in a car accident, and she has to learn to live without them. Her aunt Gemma (Allison Williams) becomes her guardian, and she doesn’t know how to change her lifestyle to fit Cady’s. It was hard for Gemma to pull away from her work because she was focused on building a robot that would be the ultimate toy (and best friend) for young girls. While processing Cady’s trauma, Gemma dives head first into constructing this AI robot for her niece to help her grieving process. She didn’t want her to be consumed by losing her parents, and M3GAN would help her move forward. Gemma didn’t expect the deep, emotional connection Cady would have with M3GAN. 

As the film goes on, M3GAN adapts to her surroundings, and she becomes closer to Cady. She understands what she wants and how to help her through anything. The more intimate they become, the more overprotective M3GAN gets. Anything said against Cady would irritate her, and this is where she starts to change. Johnstone’s direction for M3GAN all came down to the subtlety of her glances and how she would pick up on conversations. That is what made the character intriguing. The way Johnstone would lead up to the kills worked well, but it didn’t feel as creepy as it should have. It could be because the humour and anticipation were more interesting than the kill. The combination of young Amie Donald physically playing M3GAN while Jenna Davis voiced the character was impressive. They did make a unique character with a strong story, which should be the main takeaway here. 

M3GAN had a strong start because of how Gemma and M3GAN were helping Cady with her grief. Having the villain gain sympathy from the audience first was a smart move. Almost everyone is afraid of technology and what it’s capable of. That plays in the back of the viewer’s mind while watching this. Even if M3GAN is sweet to Cady and protective, something has to go wrong because she doesn’t have the full spectrum of human emotion. The film works better when it taps into the psychology of AI and how it works for/against humans through Cady. The main issue is that the “good parts” were already shown in the trailer. It does take away from watching those scenes in the context of the film, making it less surprising. There were some fun moments, and it was enjoyable for the most part, but it felt a bit bland toward the end. 

‘Halloween Ends’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Within four decades of the Halloween franchise adding sequels upon sequels, Laurie Strode’s story finally comes to an end. But was it the ending she deserved? Director David Gordon Green has constructed a trilogy highlighting trauma and one man’s effects on an entire community. The first instalment explored generational trauma, the second film explored communal trauma, and the last instalment explored how to cope with it. Each film’s themes are strong, but the Halloween Ends script will leave you a bit underwhelmed. The story isn’t about Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) or even Michael Myers (Nick Castle), but an entirely new character named Corey Cunningham (Rohan Campbell). For a third instalment to not have the leading characters of the franchise in the majority of the film is questionable. 

David Gordon Green did something different, and that is something I can admire him for. He went a different route when developing Corey Cunningham as someone who wanted to be like Michael Myers. Almost like an apprentice in this movie. Cunningham “accidentally” killed the child he was babysitting on Halloween night, and the whole town turned against him. Almost like they were trying to latch onto a new killer for Haddonfield because Michael Myers wasn’t present. Gordon Green also tried to reverse the cycle of the child going after the babysitter, which would have worked if the story had gone in a different direction. The bones of the story are there. It’s the execution of it that didn’t quite work. In the beginning, this third film felt like they needed to fill time to stretch out the final standoff between Michael Myers and Laurie Strode. And when that happened in the last fifteen minutes, it didn’t even feel warranted. 

The worst thing was that the development of Allyson (Andi Matichak) was ruined over plot convenience and the love for Cunningham. With Allyson being a Strode and seeing what her grandmother went through. The decisions she made in this film felt so out of character. We didn’t see the strong, fearless, and grounded Allyson from the previous two instalments. Instead, we see a young woman desperate to find love and risks her relationship with her grandmother to get it. It’s the most disappointing aspect of the trilogy because she was such a strong character. And her connection with Laurie is what made many audiences connect with her. It almost feels like an entirely different character. And she is only there to connect Cunningham to a Strode for the return of Michael Myers. It became a very convenient way to tie everything together at the end. It felt like Gordon Green did not know where the story was originally going after 2018. 

Halloween Ends is probably the most anticlimactic way to end the franchise because of how detached Michael Myers and Laurie Strode was from the story. It had the potential to be a good ending if Gordon Green decided to stick with one direction for Cunningham in the end. People thought Halloween Kills was too graphic and had too many kills. This third film is the total opposite. There was one good kill, and the film lacked the suspense that Halloween (2018) was filled with. It’s an underwhelming finale to a feud that has lasted four decades. Laurie does get some closure, and there are references to Halloween (1978). But it doesn’t deliver anything epic in terms of a final story. The opening of this film felt like an entirely different movie than the other two in the trilogy, and it didn’t feel like Halloween. 

‘Werewolf By Night’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

The feel of old-fashioned monster movies isn’t present in horror movies today. What they offered was something different. Horror doesn’t only consist of scares, an excessive amount of blood, or graphic violence. It can also bring some humanity to the monsters we see through their interactions. Old-fashioned horror monster movies would design a different way to scare audiences through the use of lighting, shadows, and an incredible score. These films would tap into the viewers’ psyche and tap into their fears. The cinematography has always been an important factor when constructing these monster films and director Michael Giacchino brought this all back in the Marvel Special Werewolf by Night. It is a wonderful homage to the comic books and the monster movies audiences have loved. 

When a secret group of monster hunters gather at Bloodstone Manor following the death of their leader, they engage in a mysterious and deadly competition for a powerful relic which will bring them face to face with a dangerous monster. Co-writers Heather Quinn and Peter Cameron adapted the comics most simply. It was one evening filled with lore, monster hunters and creatures lurking in the shadows. Jack (Gael Garcia Bernal) has a secret of his own but is more interested in finding out who this creature is that they must kill to retrieve the Bloodstone. Ulysses’ wife Verusa (Harriet Sansom Harris) is the one orchestrating this evening for her husband. When their estranged daughter shows up, Elsa Bloodstone (Laura Donnelly) wants to put a stop to the tradition. 

Giacchino and director of photography Zoë White build that old horror mood together. The production design was simple as they crafted a little maze within a town for the hunt. As Giacchino moves through the maze with Jack and the rest of the hunters, he slowly moves the camera when the characters are in the frame. There’s a symmetry with the lighting and highlights that White expertly designed so it feels as if you are coming out of the shadows with them. There are some beautiful shots in this special presentation and it’s because of her work. Once we see the werewolf, Giacchino’s choice to show the kills and movement through shadows and flashing lights is fantastic. It was lovely to see a project go back to the genre’s roots. 

Werewolf by Night is one of the best Marvel projects that has come out this year. Director Michael Giacchino had a clear vision of what he wanted to do with this special presentation, and it worked. On top of that, he is one of the best composers, and his score for this project brought that sinister feel as they navigated through the town. It worked as a contained story. The ending of this could also lead to more tales about the Werewolf by Night. The reason why the end worked so well is because of what is referenced, and it is such a layered way to end the special. It is a perfect Marvel project to bring in the Halloween season, and it’s something that fans will return to every year. Giacchino did a great job with this, and it’s only fair that we get to see more. 

‘Smile’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Horror movies have different ways of getting inside our heads. Sometimes it’s more so the thought of the concept than actually seeing it on screen. Smile shows a spirit following your every move and waiting to consume you. After witnessing a bizarre, traumatic incident involving a patient, Dr. Rose Cotter (Sosie Bacon) starts experiencing frightening occurrences that she can’t explain. As an overwhelming terror begins taking over her life, Rose must confront her troubling past to survive and escape her horrifying new reality. Newcomer Parker Finn did a great job in directing his first horror feature and made some unique choices that went back to the roots of horror. 

It feels like jump scares are scarce these days and it’s because some horror films are more focused on other elements. Sometimes the anticipation isn’t built properly and the score fades into the background, but Smile delivered on those fronts. The script is the main issue with Smile as it gets repetitive and dwindles when Rose investigates this spirit’s previous victims. It drags in the middle as she slowly loses her mind and doesn’t know what her reality is anymore. Even though Bacon gives a strong performance, the script is what brings her down. Parker Finn tried to tie in Rose’s past to the spirit to create this grand finale of facing her trauma, but it didn’t make sense to incorporate it the way they did. It felt like he didn’t know how to end the film. 

What Parker Finn does deliver are the scares. After watching many horror films, some can feel numb to the jump scares or anything remotely startling. So for Smile to anticipate the spirit’s every move and create that suspense, it did the job it set out to do. Even with its weak script, when certain deaths happen it comes as a shock and some visuals will stay burned in your mind. The idea of having a person smile at you in a sinister, taunting manner days before your death is somewhat horrifying. But, the script also handles mental health poorly when exploring the nature of this concept. It may be difficult for some to watch because it does discuss suicide and the spirit being tied to mental illness. Nothing is fully being addressed with Rose’s mental health; it is just used to integrate her trauma in the third act. It’s as if they needed a reason for others to believe that she was unstable before the spirit.

Smile delivers on the scares, making it entertaining for the most part. The script is the weakest aspect as it does slow down in the middle and loses the thrilling aspects that made the film’s first half interesting. The jumps are placed to reel the viewer back in when it gets dull in certain places. For the most part, Sosie Bacon’s performance was strong up until the third act. It is entertaining because of the tension in certain scenes and some scares that came out of nowhere. The way Finn created this warped reality for Rose worked in some instances, but unfortunately, the film was a bit too predictable towards the end. It’s a fun film to watch for the jump scares, but not a memorable one because of the generic script.