Brandon Cronenberg’s ‘Infinity Pool’ Offers Sun, Sand and Psychedelic Body Horror | Movie+TV Reviews | Seven Days
click to enlarge Courtesy of Neon Skarsgård and Goth play wealthy tourists enjoying violent delicacies in Brandon Cronenberg’s latest trancey horror flick.
This winter has been so gloomy. A movie set in an upscale resort seems like the perfect antidote. Even the title, Infinity Pool (at the movies), evokes the sumptuous infinity of lazy days spent basking in the sun – wait, what’s that again? Is it a horror movie that pushes the boundaries of the R rating? Directed by Brandon Cronenberg, son of Canadian author David Cronenberg, who seems determined to produce surreal visions even more disturbing than those of his father?
If you don’t like any of that, you can just watch “The White Lotus” again. But, personally, I’m always up for a Cronenberg vacation.
In a gated resort town in the fictional country of La Tolqa (played by Croatia and Hungary), James (Alexander Skarsgård) and Em (Cleopatra Coleman) hope a vacation will revive their marriage. He is a novelist who has produced exactly one failed book; it is the daughter of a publishing magnate who supports him in style.
Then another guest, Gabi (Mia Goth), interferes in James’ life. Her husband (Jalil Lespert) doesn’t seem to mind that she is visibly out to woo the writer, and the two couples venture outside the station for a country walk.
The outing ends with a hit-and-run that puts James in the crosshairs of La Tolqa’s fearsome justice system. The country imposes the death penalty for even minor transgressions, but tourists have the option of buying their way out. There’s only one catch: they have to watch an exact duplicate of themselves die.
Will you like it?
When will the men in horror movies learn? If Mia Goth makes her way to you, rocking retro fashion and straddling the line between ingenue and temptress, run the other way. Since A Cure for Wellness, the actor has cemented her status as a scream queen with a specialty in guiding dopey men straight into the abyss. She does it in style and lets the audience in on the joke — that men refuse to believe that someone so sweet and fresh could be their downfall.
This is certainly the case with the hopelessly insecure James in Infinity Pool; Gabi’s praise for her book soon has him following her around like a puppy. She drags him into a depraved game with his clique of friends in which what is at stake is his very sense of self.
Infinity Pool does a better job of selling its central concept than Cronenberg’s previous two feature films, which too often relied on trippy imagery to disguise a weakness in plot and characterization. The premise doesn’t make much sense – it hinges on the fact that the impoverished nation of La Tolqa has technology unknown anywhere else – but once we suspend our disbelief, the consequences are believable enough. Eager to extract money from tourists, the natives empower them to follow their worst impulses, and the wealthy demonstrate that there is no depth they do not wish to explore.
Like The Menu, Infinity Pool combines horror with satirical class commentary, but that doesn’t give us the satisfaction of seeing an underdog win. As in Cronenberg’s other films, a guaranteed storyline leaves us feeling disconnected with the characters. Our protagonist, James, is so passive and easily led that he feels more like a placeholder. Em might as well be a prop; after a few tart aftershocks, it disappears. Only Gabi has real agency, and she’s a force of pure, joyful perversion.
With main characters no more likable than those in the Hostel series, Infinity Pool might be easy to dismiss if it weren’t for such a jaw-dropping movie dream. From his first scenes, desaturated colors and vertiginous angles make everything seem treacherously unreal. Extremely jarring close-ups contrast with scenes that play with optical illusion. A blurry detective silhouetted against a window looks disturbingly inhumane, for example, highlighting how other natives appear to tourists. Later, the film goes completely psychedelic for a few scenes, including a drug-fueled orgy featuring a sham kaleidoscope of body parts. (Photosensitive viewers should be aware that these scenes also feature strobe lights.)
A stronger script might have found something more substantial to say about the male ego dilemmas that Cronenberg seems to want to embody in James’s fate. The writer-director makes a smart choice, however, when he asks one of his characters to immediately recognize and dismiss the overriding philosophical questions posed by technology – how do I know if I’m actually watching my double die? What if I was double?
These questions are so Blade Runner, so 20th century. Living in a world of AI and deepfakes, these affluent characters don’t care whether they are themselves or clones implanted with their memories. The important thing is that they always have access to their bank accounts.