Infinity pools are built as optical illusions where water seems to have no boundaries, slipping into nothingness and bleeding into the horizon. There couldn’t be a better title for Brandon Cronenberg’s latest identity crisis-than-body horror film Infinity Pool, coming after 2020’s Possessor. Set in a high-end all-inclusive resort in the fictional country of Li Tolqa (it was filmed on location in Croatia and Hungary), Infinity Pool is bigger than its predecessor, the narrative grander, sharper, funnier and more kinky .
This is Cronenberg’s “Eyes Wide Shut” on “The White Lotus”; It dialogues with Triangle of Sadness, but it also seems to be a deeply personal film about an artist confronting his insecurities and finding a kind of transformation in sheer surrender and submission. It’s a scathing satire of wealth, an examination of the power dynamics inherent in colonial tourism and an indictment of the bad behavior that money not only enables, but creates. But most importantly, it cements Cronenberg as one of our greatest film geeks, much like his father, the great David Cronenberg. In terms of that relationship, Infinity Pool is also fraught with anxieties about being an artist with family ties to the industry.
The propelling narrative and cinematographer Karim Hussain’s queasy, off-balance camerawork combine to create the feeling of being sucked into a surreal maelstrom and entering a world that’s out of whack, almost askew, as if we were on a ship would be. The cool color palette belies the beauty of the place, and all compositions are listed on the left. The close-ups are extreme and the shallow depth of field allows Hussain to constantly focus between characters, underscoring the dissonance between our protagonist and his wife.
Alexander Skarsgård plays James Foster, a writer with an inferiority complex. After publishing a novel, he goes on vacation with his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman), the publisher’s daughter, in search of something to cure his writer’s block. Inspiration, or something like that, comes into his life in the form of Gabi (Mia Goth), a fan of his book, she claims, and soon James and Em are eating, dancing and escaping the heavily fortified resort grounds for a beach picnic with Gabi and her husband Alban (Jalil Lespert).
As James tipsy drives their illegally rented convertible back to the resort, the headlights go out and he punches and kills a local farmer, triggering his descent into the unique and dystopian legal process of the impoverished, religious and conservative Li Tolqa. He was sentenced to death for his hit-and-run and executed by the man’s young son. But for a hefty fee, the police can create his “double,” or clone, to be killed instead. The only catch? He has to watch.
Choosing doubles seems like the only choice, but it’s the one that sends James down a rabbit hole and hooking up with Gabi and Alban’s clique, who have all been doubled before, and using their money to avoid responsibility and consequences. New life encourages them to behave, deriving as much hedonistic pleasure from a home invasion as they do from a drug-fuelled orgy.
At the center of this kaleidoscopic wormhole of dangerously dark joy is Gabi, played by reigning scream queen Mia Goth (“X”, “Pearl”), who is as fierce and fearless as she is witty. Gabi morphs from flattering fangirl to seductive sexpot to sadistic prankster and bully, dominating and humiliating the hapless himbo James with relish and her signature siren screech. It’s the kind of performance that only Goth could pull off, intentionally belligerent but so fully engaged that it tips over the edge into the frightening.
This feels like the perfect sequel to a groundbreaking film – a project about writer’s block, terribly rich people, and the constant loss of identity that only finds peace in submitting to powerful forces beyond his control. Whether James is a good writer doesn’t seem to matter, and whether he finds himself is unclear, but Cronenberg sure has fun pouring blood and bodily fluids on the issue and seeing how far he can push boundaries. If you’re ready to surf the wonderfully weird and wild wavelength of Infinity Pool, this is a unique and unforgettable ride indeed.
Katie Walsh is a film critic for the Tribune News Service.
Rated: R, for significant violence, disturbing material, strong sexual content, significant nudity, drug use, and some language
Duration: 1 hour 57 minutes
To play: Launches January 27th in general release
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/movies/story/2023-01-25/review-infinity-pool-brandon-cronenberg-mia-goth-alexander-skarsgard-horror ‘Infinity Pool’ review: Brandon Cronenberg pokes us out of the deep end