“The 1% is skewered (and screwed) in Brandon Cronenberg's trippy, sex-fueled thriller.”
- An original concept
- Cronenberg's assured, visionary direction
- Outstanding performances from Skarsgård and Goth
- A great synth score
- Some ideas aren't as fleshed out as others
In the opening five minutes of Brandon Cronenberg’s new movie Infinity Pool, you think you know what you’re getting. A gorgeous couple (Alexander Skarsgård and Cleopatra Coleman) wake up in their oversized bed and then venture outside to eat gourmet food at a fancy resort. As the couple finishes and walk back to their high-priced hotel, the camera begins to move upward and slowly spin around. It then cuts to different places inside the resort, with the camera continually spinning and moving, until everything is upside down. The effect is disorienting, and that’s the point. Nothing in this movie is on solid ground, and what comes next will leave you dizzy.
That’s a good thing, as Infinity Pool is one of the most original, disgusting, hypnotic, and revolting movies in quite a while. It takes on a number of subjects and genres — a withering satire of the 1%, an examination of identity through a sci-fi lens — and blends them together skillfully and tastelessly. It’s not for everyone, but those who dig it will love it.
The plot focuses on James Foster (Skarsgård), an author who is seeking inspiration for his long-delayed second novel at a resort in a fictional developing country, which is so dangerous that the guests are forbidden to venture beyond the resort’s heavily guarded barbed wire fence. His wife, Em (Coleman), is rich, and has generously sponsored her husband’s failing literary efforts. After witnessing an act of vandalism on the resort, James meets Gabi (Mia Goth), who professes to be a fan of James’ badly reviewed first novel. Soon, James and Em meet Gabi’s older partner, Alban, and the couples bond while discussing their champagne problems.
The adventurous Gabi and Alban invite the reluctant Fosters to join them for a boozy picnic beyond the resort’s safe confines. Once outside, the couples drink, eat, and, in the case of Gabi and James, engage in mild flirting that results in a hurried, and hidden, sexual encounter. As night falls, James drives the group back to the resort until an accident occurs, a man winds up dead, and a crime is concealed for fear of being punished in a land with few, if any, rules.
While this sounds like the complete plot of another season of The White Lotus, this is just the first 20 minutes of Infinity Pool‘s. To describe what happens next would be to spoil the fun of the movie. You don’t know where Infinity Pool is going, and the pleasure of not knowing is its chief appeal.
What can be said about the plot is that it’s not a straightforward mystery. Nothing in this movie is played straight; every time you expect a zig, it zags. Suffice it to say that James finds himself more and more in trouble, Gabi alternates between being sympathetic and psychotic, and nothing is what it appears to be.
A movie like this needs fearless actors to sell its out-there sci-fi satire, and Infinity Pool doesn’t disappoint. Skarsgård, last seen covered in blood and viscera in The Northman, and Goth, who emerged as a star in 2022 with the horror movies X and Pearl, are certified freaks, and they are more than up to the task of embodying the more outrageous aspects of the film’s story.
As James, Skarsgård at first plays up the everyman qualities that gave the actor mainstream success in such studio films as The Legend of Tarzan, but then slowly reveals his character’s kinkier side. As James sinks further into trouble, he becomes more intoxicated with the pleasures and punishment his predicament gives him, and Skarsgård doesn’t flinch in showing this duality.
Gabi could’ve easily been a femme fatale stereotype, but Goth is too original of an actress to fall back on genre clichés. Her Gabi, like Pearl before her, is violent and scary, but also weirdly calm and reassuring. It’s to Goth’s credit that it makes sense for her character to, at various points throughout the film, wield a gun while screaming and offer her exposed bloodied breast for sustenance. It’s a role that shouldn’t make any sense, but Goth sells it by committing fully to the movie’s absurdity.
It’s director Cronenberg, however, who emerges as the real star of Infinity Pool. In his past two works, the paranoid thriller Antiviral and the body-swap mindfuck movie Possessor, Cronenberg (son of David Cronenberg) has showed a promise that was stifled by a fidelity to other directors, the most obvious being his own father’s body of horror movies. With this film, he comes into his own as a director, offering a unique vision that blends horror, science fiction, and satire that no one is doing right now.
The “eat the rich” subgenre has been popular lately, with the second season of The White Lotus, The Menu, and Triangle of Sadness documenting the comic absurdities of the elite. Instead of reiterating the universal message that wealthy people are awful, Cronenberg focuses on the nightmare of being trapped in, and abused by, privilege.
This permeates throughout the film and reaches its climax, so to speak, in a bravura 5-minute long orgy sequence that showcases the strength of Cronenberg’s vision. Like the film, what starts out as enticing quickly devolves into a hellish, neon-lit fantasia of flesh. Sweaty bodies become grotesquely one with another, with arms protruding from orifices and faces blending into one another. Identity, a paramount concern of Cronenberg’s in all of his works, is destroyed here, and like James, we’re left to pick up the pieces.
Infinity Pool is sure to be divisive; all great art is, and this movie qualifies. It takes a sci-fi premise and runs with it, but never forgets about the real-world implications of the issues it raises. Is James less of a man, and an artist, for willingly being in a marriage that benefits his writing? Is it right for a country to enact its own rules for vengeance on its visitors who don’t share their views? Does life matter without the threat of death?
These are weighty questions, and while the movie delves into each one of them (and many more), it does so with a confidence and zeal that is both impressive and entertaining. In the end, the most daring thing about the deadly serious Infinity Pool isn’t its sex, violence, or transgressive themes, but how much fun it is to watch. Who knew modern ennui could be so enjoyable?
Infinity Pool is now playing in theaters nationwide.
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