2023, R, 118 min. Directed by Brandon Cronenberg. Starring Mia Goth, Alexander Skarsgård, Thomas Kretschmann, Cleopatra Coleman, Amanda Brugel.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Jan. 27, 2023
Don’t be lulled by the title: This Infinity Pool is no invite to a languorous relaxation. The film is a plunge into extremely rough, bottomless waters. The film comes from the mind of Brandon Cronenberg, whose previous movies, Antiviral and Possessor, are good indicators of the type of icky physical nightmares the writer/director brings to the screen. He is also the son of David Cronenberg (Crimes of the Future, Videodrome), whose own career of unforgettable body-horror imagery must be a very hard act to follow. Yet Infinity Pool manages to one-up Brandon Cronenberg’s imposing legacy.
You know from the start that you’re in for something different. The opening 30 seconds or so begin in darkness. The first establishing shots are disorienting 360-degree camera rotations that move from land to sky and back again. The central character is James Foster (the always intrepid Skarsgård), a writer on vacation with his rich wife Em (Coleman). James’ only book was published six years ago, and he arrives at the vacation paradise looking for inspiration. The exotic resort calls to mind White Lotus, but dystopic touches abound, such as the barbed wire surrounding the gates, dire warnings not to leave the premises, and the horrifying skin masks worn by the local farmers during rituals. It’s a fortuitous thing that Neon is the distributor of this film because Infinity Pool’s blithely rich tourists would fit nicely on a double bill with that company’s Academy Award-nominated Triangle of Sadness and that film’s sea-going, class-striated ship of gassy fools.
James and Em are lured into a forbidden excursion beyond the resort’s gates by Gabi (Pearl breakout star Goth) and Alban (Lespert), a couple comprising a flattering temptress and vaguely louche architect. On a secluded beach, Gabi masturbates James, complete with images of an erect penis and money shot. (The version of Infinity Pool screened at the Sundance Film Festival was an NC-17 version, and I’m certain that for the R-rated version released to theatres a few graphic snippets here and there will be excised.) On the ride back to the resort, James takes the wheel of the car and accidentally kills a farmer. The punishment for murder in this country is the life of the killer. But there’s an escape clause for the well-heeled: They can purchase a body double to be created that will house all their memories and then watch that double be slaughtered. Or is it the double? Watching one’s own death is both horrible and fascinating.
Gabi and Alban introduce James to a coterie of couples who come to the resort regularly to indulge their vices. A hallucinatory aphrodisiac is introduced and sexual body parts begin to morph and protrude from random orifices while orgiastic rule-breaking of all sorts occurs. Later, Gabi rides on the hood of a car while shouting demeaning insults to the ego-diminished James. Specifics start to get a bit muddled here, although the science-fiction concept seems sound. James fights his naked self by the end (shades of Skarsgård’s recent film The Northman) and even if this is a film that does not always make perfect sense, Infinity Pool is a film that does not shrink from its transgressions.
Audience Advisory: The NC-17 version of the film I saw in the program of the Sundance Film Festival contains strobe effects that may potentially trigger seizures. The film is rated R for its subsequent theatrical run, but even with certain sexual bits excised, Infinity Pool is bound to be a very hard R.)
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Infinity Pool, Brandon Cronenberg, Mia Goth, Alexander Skarsgård, Thomas Kretschmann, Cleopatra Coleman, Amanda Brugel