An unnamed paradise, a mistake that leaves a body, a hedonistic Mia Goth; these are the components that make up Brandon Cronenberg’s Infinity Pool. Entering limited release on 01/27/23 out of Sundance, the film has already proven to be a difficult journey even for seasoned viewers and fans of his visceral, brutal body horror. This one isn’t for the faint of heart nor the calm in constitution and I urge them to stay away, afraid that they might get caught in the current and washed out to sea.
For the rest of you this one’s going to be very interesting.
The director of Possessor has never shied away from shock and awe. Indeed, his previous films have been drenched in ideas of identity and gore all meshed together. “Meshed together” may be the only way to describe his approach to storytelling as individuals, minds, and bodies all wind up that way in a debauch of flesh and fealty. Infinity Pool is no different, following a writer, James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård), and his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) as they navigate their vacation-turned-nightmare with new friends Gabi (Mia Goth) and Alban Bauer (Jalil Lespert). A trip away from the resort ends in a tragic accident and James comes to learn that the local government has a zero-tolerance policy for basically everything. Lucky for him you can pay your way out, with the government calling it a deal if their brutal death penalties can be carried out on a clone of yourself provided you can afford the cost of creating one. James, now addicted to this sensation of immortality and brutality even if he’s no longer sure he’s James, falls into a hedonistic lifestyle with the Bauers and their friends, who spend their days terrorizing the locals and buying their way out as their identities sink into a cesspool of uncertainty.
Cronenberg’s latest is a step down from its predecessor but there’s a lot to unpack beyond its basic premise. This, like his other films, is a story of the privileged being taken apart by others as a sport. The choice to make cloning technology a mere gateway for his actual premise works like a charm even if the film is too meandering to ever completely settle into itself. At a whopping 117 minutes, this is no easy task to sit through; equal parts gripping and monotonous but has such an enticing vibe if you can get lost in it. The major issue is that Infinity Pool has trouble hooking the audience until about twenty minutes in, a big ask and a long sit without anything but a really uncomfortable handjob to grip onto.
The biggest win is Mia Goth’s performance, delivering a vexatious character that steals the entire film in moments. Goth has been stepping up to embody a lot of odd characters lately but the Pearl actress is in fine form and has created yet another new accent to chew on while she swills wine, writhes, monologues, and inhales copious amounts of religious ceremonial drugs that she bought from a security guard. Her recent efforts with Ti West have been a great vehicle for her but Infinity Pool gives her a wide range of grating gratuity to play with that one can never quite tear their eyes away. Every instance of this bonkers performance is captured lovingly by Karim Hussain, cinematographer and DP, and the way it’s shot is in keeping with Brandon Cronenberg’s affinity for rotating reality, closeups of specific parts of a performer’s face, and shooting instances of gauzy neon. Coupled with Goth it creates moments that you can’t help but get lost in even if you’re not sure where you’re going.
Sometimes vibes aren’t enough and that’s going to be a problem for most viewers. The NC-17 film isn’t near the bloodiest or horniest I’ve ever seen but it’s highly disturbing. This, coupled with the fact that its plot is lost in the Croatian wilderness, keeps it from being a masterpiece and more of a curio. None of it is particularly abstruse but it’s dense, confused, and gets tied up in its own obsession with being as weird as it can be. Infinity Pool isn’t the smash hit that I’d hoped it would be, particularly on the heels of Possessor, but I think its intended audience will eat it up and enjoy every bite of this hedonistic epic.
Infinity Pool is currently in a limited theatrical release, with expansion to come.