Brandon Cronenberg serves up a hedonistic head-trip
In Infinity Pool, Li Tolqa is heaven on Earth for the rich and the depraved.
For a hefty price, foreign visitors to an opulent resort town in this impoverished nation can lounge on the beach, dance the night away under strobe lights, and indulge in every vice under the sun. They can even get away with murder – provided, of course, they can afford the ultimate get out of jail card.
Li Tolqa, you see, has a zero-tolerance policy towards crime and a rather warped sense of justice, given that all kinds of crimes carry the death penalty. Through its local tourism initiative, tourists who find themselves on the wrong side of the law have two options: they can either be executed or pay to have identical duplicates created and killed in their place.
The third feature from Brandon Cronenberg, whose previous films Antiviral and Possessor delivered cold-to-the-touch body horror with a viciously satirical edge, Infinity Pool doesn’t hide its venom for the rich and privileged, but The White Lotus does. is not . More inspired by the later works of JG Ballard, with their brutal collisions of eros and thanatos, the film fully deserves the NC-17 rating it screened with at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, immersing audiences in montages intense and acid-washed violent murders. , mind-blowing orgies and drug-fueled mayhem.
At the center of the chaos is resort guest James (Alexander Skarsgärd), introduced as he slowly wakes up in one of the hotel’s lavish suites next to his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman); she immediately gives us clues to the weirdness to come by asking James if, in his sleep, he told her, “You can’t feed yourself brain dead white sand.”
Alexander Skarsgård stars as James in Infinity Pool.Neon
He doesn’t know if he said that, but it’s the kind of evocative, half-illogical thought one would expect to come out of the mouth of a failing novelist whose latest book was titled The Variable Sheath. It was published six years ago, sold poorly, and fared even worse with critics; This remains a sore point for the couple, and especially for James, given that Em’s father runs the publishing company that published the novel, but it’s far from their only point of contention.
Even at the Pa Qlqa Pearl Princess resort, where the couple stayed in hopes of enticing James to start writing again, they address each other coldly and with disinterest; it’s clearly a relationship on the rocks and has been for some time. James soon encounters fellow vacationer Gaby (Mia Goth, last seen terrorizing audiences in Ti West’s retro horror twinkle X and Pearl), who gauges him with a hungry look and introduces herself as a fan of The Variable Sheath. As unlikely as it may seem, James could use the ego boost and so goes to dinner with Gaby and Alban (Jalil Lespert), her wealthy architect husband.
Later, James and Em agree to follow Gabi and Alban outside the compound, past the barbed wire fence and the armed guards patrolling its perimeter, for a ride into the Li Tolqa countryside. After wandering off to relieve himself leads to an encounter with Gaby, James stumbles to the car in a daze and drives everyone back to the station. But an accident on the way puts him under arrest for manslaughter. In the custody of local detective Thresh (Thomas Kretschmann), James is told about Li Tolqa’s unique doubling procedure, a loophole that allows him to bail out as a double – only to be molded to life in a room right there at the police station – take the fall instead. Naturally, James agrees.
Mia Goth and Alexander Skarsgard in Infinity Pool.Neon
Son of body horror maestro David (who filmed Future Crimes in Greece as Infinity Pool shot in Croatia), Cronenberg views the cloning procedure as a mind-bending deconstruction of the self, reminiscent of the psychoplasmic warfare that dominated the second half of Possessor. The director once again teamed up with cinematographer Karim Hussain; together the pair imagine all sorts of spooky images – viscous red liquid freezing around James’s neck, body parts forming and warping as if made of putrid wax, neurons flickering like disco balls – which recur in later sequences to submerge the narrative in hot, frantic waves.
Weaving together erotic and sinister sensations until they are utterly indistinguishable, these hallucinogenic sequences center on mutant violations of the flesh: one bodily organ protruding from another, nipples growing uncontrollably, group sex in which the participants’ bodies ooze over each other as if melted by debauchery. Infinity Pool places its audience in an eerie space, one that demands a degree of surrender to its relentless psychotronic excess as well as the existential despair that yawns beneath it like an abyss. The questions he asks are less class-conscious than psychologically intrusive: freed from consequences, who among us can say with certainty how we would act, or what effects those actions would have on our ever-fluid senses of self?
Alexander Skarsgärd goes wild in Infinity Pool.Neon
For James, collusion with the hidden crime in Gaby and Alban’s life at Li Tolqa comes easily after the procedure. “It’s like a new skin falling into place,” Gaby suggests seductively, revealing that she and Alban broke the authorities and went through the process on a previous stay. Now that James knows, he can follow their other rich and dirty friends, lashing out at Li Tolqa with the assurance that their hedonistic behavior will, at worst, result in a major hit to their checkbooks.
The specifics of the doubling process remain slippery in Infinity Pool, and some members of Gaby’s crew question its true nature. “I’ll never know if I’m really myself as long as I live,” says one, a powerful distillation of Cronenberg’s paranoid-schizoid preoccupations as a filmmaker. However, once James samples a homegrown mind-altering substance, Infinity Pool’s narrative becomes even more topsy-turvy, moving forward in disoriented nightmare logic as Gaby drops her adoring fan guise to impose incredibly twisted power dynamics. to the increasingly helpless James.
Skarsgärd is mesmerizing to watch as the polar opposite of his harrowing Viking from The Northman; always up for a test of cinematic endurance, he takes more than he gives in this role, but the actor’s greatest gift is intense physicality that turns James’ degradation into an animalistic state, and the psychological spiral that accompanies it, disturbing to watch. And Goth, never wilder, takes control of Infinity Pool and never gives it up. As an almost parodically impulsive sociopath with a craving for violence and humiliation, not to mention the most convincing cackle of any working actress, here she operates in a super-wicked register that gradually shatters the film’s reality, but only at her advantage.
Infinity Pool reaches its hallucinogenic climax too far before its final scenes, and it ends a bit too slowly, as if reflecting the groggy aftermath of a bad trip. But Cronenberg is smart at pairing all the identity-focused ultraviolence with an oil-slick sense of humor. (After James completes the doubling procedure, for example, the detective passes her ashes to him in an urn and suggests that he take her home “in remembrance.”) Cronenberg chose familiar targets with Infinity Pool, but he there is a new visceral pleasure in seeing them cracked by a director engaged in carnal, cranial excavations.
Infinity Pool premiered at Sundance on January 21 and is available virtually until January 26, before opening in theaters on January 27.