If you get the chance to see the NC-17 version of Brandon Cronenberg’s latest masterpiece, Infinity Pool, do it. It’s the best way to see more of cinematographer Karim Hussain’s work, especially the hallucination scene. The two friends and longtime collaborators have created something truly special and fascinating, and it’s an incredibly unique spectacle for the eyes. Chances are Karim has been behind the camera on several of your favorite horror movies. I know he has on mine. It was an extreme pleasure to be able to chat with Karim about the making of Infinity Pool, how he became a master of his craft, what’s up next, and more!
PopHorror: Thank you so much for your time, Karim. Infinity Pool was incredible. I loved it so much. I’m a huge Brandon Cronenberg fan so this is what I’ve been waiting for for a long time. I’m also a fan of yours as you’ve worked on some of my favorites. I’m excited to speak with you today.
Karim Hussain: Thanks! Pleasure to be here.
PopHorror: Infinity Pool is your third feature with Brandon Cronenberg. What makes you keep saying yes?
Karim Hussain: We’re friends. Since we met during the prep of Antiviral, it’s like we’re family. A core group of us that was formed on the making of Antiviral. We just had similar ideas, similar concepts, and a similar sense of humor so that helped. We’re neighbors in Toronto so that also is fun. We’re just friends. There’s nothing better to me than making a movie with your friends. I tend to do that. For most of the directors I work with, we’re friends, or we end up being friends and carry our friendship much beyond the actual production of the movie. It’s sort of like being in a band. I’ll go and do many other side projects and other projects with the directors of course, and many of them can be really great. But I am in the Brandon Cronenberg band, so to speak. That is a band I am a member of, and the good thing about being a cinematographer is you can be a member of many other directors’ bands too, and that’s a pretty cool thing.
PopHorror: That is awesome! I was lucky enough to interview Brandon for Possessor and he’s pretty fantastic. I love hearing this, that he’s your friend and that’s why you keep coming back. That’s super cool.
Karim Hussain: To add to that, he’s also my friend who’s probably one of the most brilliant people I’ve ever met in my life, so that helps.
PopHorror: Oh, absolutely. Infinity Pool is incredibly beautiful. The camerawork is remarkable. How do you prepare for a project like this?
Karim Hussain: Well, it’s a many years process, Infinity Pool. Infinity Pool is sort of the end of a certain type of filmmaking that Brandon and myself developed over the course of many, many years. It’s the maximum that we could go with the few techniques that we developed initially for Possessor. Possessor is a movie that was very, very long in development. It was about seven years from when we thought we would get close to going to camera, to when it actually went to camera so it was many, many years of it starting and stopping, starting and stopping. So we started developing a lot of ideas of hallucinations with practical effects that we first used on music videos with Brandon for a band called Animalia, then afterwards we went out and did the short film, Please Speak Continuously and Describe Your Experiences as They Come to You. Long title, short film. In doing so, we developed quite a few things like the projection techniques, the projection vortex techniques, and basically effectively feeding the image from the camera onto the subject that you’re filming to create a sort of multiple infinite loop of images projected onto people as they are acting and reacting. And then that development process went from that short film to Possessor, and then we wanted to step it up again for Infinity Pool. Also, those three projects – the short and two features – that followed it were all done with the same cameras, same lenses, a lot of the same production techniques, same compression format, things like that. Infinity Pool was sort of the sum of all of that kind of thing, and we used different types of colors on there, in a sense. We used a lot of dichroic film, which is a type of film that we used as a gel that was placed over a split field diopter, which is a magnifying glass split in half. We rephotographed a lot of stuff – really in the orgy sequences and hallucination scenes – with the rushes projected in my living room. We tend to do these experiments in my living room. It’s a tradition. Or in Brandon’s attic. So it’s either going to be in my living room or Brandon’s attic. We go through numerous elements of these experiments. Then we re-photograph the footage that we had done through this basically magnifying glass split in half and a piece of dichroic film taped over it, which is again, a type of film that no matter what angle you look at it, the color changes, and then we have a light going through. But of course this is done with Brandon and myself alone in a room for fifteen hours, reprojecting the rushes, the footage, and everything where I’m handling the projection, operating the camera and everything, and then Brandon is the one in front of the lens with the split field diopter and the film shining the light and everything. It’s a pretty arduous process to do these hallucinations. We used a couple of other techniques with mirrors and things like that as well. And dichroic mirrors, mirrors that have this kind of color embedded in them, to the point where at the end of one shooting day, literally all of the blood had drained from Brandon’s hand from going and dancing in front of this lens. We had a special tripod set up with a cloth on top just so Brandon could rest his elbow on it because it was a very time consuming process. All of the opticals are live. There’s zero CGI in any of the hallucination scenes in Infinity Pool. Everything is straight cuts, so there’s no CGI at all in any of that. Everything is done in camera, and live in camera. There’s even stop-motion in those sequences.
PopHorror: Wow, that is impressive! And it pays off because the movie is just fascinating. You’ve worked on some really amazing films, and a lot of my favorites – Antiviral, We Are Still Here, Random Acts of Violence, Possessor, Seance. How did you get your start?
Karim Hussain: I started doing underground horror movies. I never even completed high school. I was kicked out of high school. They thought I was making pornographic movies. Stupid me was making art movies. Financial error at the time. But you know, I’ve always done this. I started very, very young shooting on Super 8 film because back then that’s how you did it. Just sort of learned the craft by loving films. I’m a child of the 80s VHS rentals so whenever we would get these movies in Canada, a lot of them were censored so we’d try to rush to get the American unrated tapes and things like that. I would pause them and try to see how the shots were put together, kind of learn all the secrets and techniques by pausing and looking and analyzing and studying, and making little Super 8 movies and learning that stuff. When I was kicked out of school, it was a pretty intense thing. I grew up in a place called Ottawa, Canada which was quite a conservative place, and then I moved to Montréal when I was 17, which was a much wilder, much more punk rock place, much more suitable for me. And I met up with Mitch Davis, who is now one of the directors of the Fantasia film festival, and we started doing my first feature film at that time, a movie called Subconscious Cruelty, which is a really crazy, weird movie. But it was an underground movie done on 16mm and took six and half years to finish. Then after that movie, once it came out and started playing some film festivals…
I was working at Fantasia for a few years also as a programmer and we did a bunch of stuff and we got to meet a lot of people in the festival circuit, and because of that, the movie played some pretty decent genre film festivals, and made some money in Japan. It only came out in Japan because they were – I guess – the market that would accept a thing like that at that time. Then my second feature film, which not a lot of people have seen probably for a good reason, came out and that was a Japanese movie, a Japanese financed movie. So that kind of started a career, and then things went on. I was directing these movies at the time, but also photographing them and everything. Then afterwards, because those three movies were a little bit known in Europe, much more so than in Canada, a French director named Gilles Paquet-Brenner was coming to Canada to shoot quite a sizeable movie that the world has forgotten – again, probably for a good reason – called Walled In starring Mischa Barton, Cameron Bright, and Deborah Kara Unger. For me that was a huge step up because prior to that, the largest budget I had was about 1.2 million Canadian dollars to do my third feature. Today, that movie would cost probably well over 12 million dollars to make. So that was a huge step up. And then from there, I’ve just been a full-time cinematographer since, and I realized really, directing isn’t my thing. It’s more collaboration with people that is more something I’m interested in. I have no desire to return to directing. I’ve done, and the last thing I directed was an episode of Theatre Bizarre. That was good, that was great, wonderful. Love Severin Films. That was enough. That’s it. I’m just a cinematographer.
PopHorror: I love Fantasia, and also love Severin. I do seasonal work for them and see quite a bit of Theatre Bizarre going out. That was going to be my next question, if you had any plans to return to directing. But I think you’ve found your calling with cinematography.
Karim Hussain: Well, cheers! It’s just honestly because I love to collaborate with friends, and that directing was actually weirdly lonely because I was doing the cinematography as well as directing and everything, and I prefer to just collaborate with friends. I’m not a solo act. I’m a band member.
PopHorror: If you could collaborate with anyone, who would it be?
Karim Hussain: Good question. It depends. I think I’m very happy with who I’m collaborating with these days. I think they’re really wonderful filmmakers, incredibly talented people, and just wonderful artists as well as human beings. That’s important to me. I don’t like to work with people who are not so nice. I’m in a position where I can choose my projects and I choose them quite carefully these days. We’ve all worked on stuff that sometimes doesn’t work out, and then sometimes it works out amazing. You learn a lot as you go and get older. I don’t know. My dream collaboration would be with more filmmakers who just really have great voices, who have unique approaches. I wouldn’t even know where to begin to name names because if they want me, they’ll find me. And if not, that’s cool too. I’m very happy working with the groups and the future groups I’ll be working with. I’m not a bitter person.
PopHorror: What is it that draws you to horror?
Karim Hussain: It’s like with any horror fan such as us, I think a lot of it has to do with experiences we’ve had when we were children and feeling a little bit different from the status quo. Having that fun feeling of being a bit on the outside, on the fringes of things. Understanding that to be a human isn’t necessarily to be perfect and to lie about who you truly are. I think embracing all different facets of humanity is really a quality and a trait of horror fans, who can be more open-minded than mainstream people. I think that’s really something I love. It’s about honesty really, horror, isn’t it? About facing fears, and about looking into a mirror and saying you know what? Maybe I won’t close my eyes. That’s something I think is really beautiful about the horror genre and horror fans in general, who are interested in horror films that try different things. There’s the basic meat and potatoes of horror fans that are out, and great. I can enjoy meat and potatoes horror movies as much as anybody else, but I like challenging genre pictures, and I think there’s so many wonderful ones out there that we can find each other.
PopHorror: I agree 100% with everything that you said. I have found my people in the horror community. I think social media is great in that way, and that it’s really helped. I feel more belonging, and I’ve found people like me. That’s what makes it so great. I don’t have to hide who I am. The horror community brings people together.
Karim Hussain: It does. It’s wonderful.
PopHorror: What is up next for you?
Karim Hussain: There’s a few things. I shot a movie for Lowell Dean called Dark Match that is in post-production now, just before the end of the year. Lowell Dean is a very good director, a very good person as well, so that was fun. I should be doing something soon that I cannot talk about. It’s a nice, really good script, and a very good director. Sizeable movie so that’s nice. It’ll have the means to accomplish the goal of its script correctly, so that’s always nice because there’s nothing more challenging. You could do it, but it is definitely always a big challenge to try to fit a script that is too ambitious for its budget into the box. You can do it, but it comes with a lot of sacrifices that need to be made in other departments, whereas this one is correctly planned. That’s a good thing. So we’ll see about that one. There’s other things on the horizon, other projects with Brandon as well, that we’re in development with. Those are very exciting projects that we’re going to try to come up with new tricks for our audiences.
PopHorror: Well, I am on board for that and that is very exciting. One last question for you today. What is your favorite scary movie?
Karim Hussain: That’s sort of like saying which of your children is your favorite? That’s definitely a tricky one. I don’t know… What is scary? There’s a lot of really wonderful scary films out there. I can’t really pick a favorite, but probably in terms of going down to the nuts and bolts of this movie, even today will still be able to get a rise from me and still make me feel frightened, it’s tough to beat the original Texas Chain Saw. It’s a masterclass in editing, a masterclass in cinematography, a masterclass in sound design and music.
Thank you so much to Karim for taking the time to speak with us. Infinity Pool is currently in theaters.