Smartly realized, psychologically fascinating, and brutally violent, Brandon Cronenberg’s trippy thriller Infinity Pool is the writer-director’s best effort yet. Equal parts relationship drama, paranoid yarn about a vacation gone wrong, and treatise on the nature of privilege, Infinity Pool has a lot going on, and it’s a huge credit to writer-director Cronenberg that it all meshes together into something this cohesive. It’s also clearly the film of Cronenberg’s most outwardly influenced by his genre master father, David, but Infinity Pool lovingly invites such comparisons rather than running from them.
Em (Cleopatra Coleman) and James (Alexander Skarsgård) are enjoying a vacation at a posh all inclusive resort on the fictional, tropical island of La Tolqa. James, a fledgling writer, is struggling to come up with ideas for his next book, and his relationship seems to be the only thing positive in his life. While at the resort, Em and James are introduced to some exciting new people who take them on a trip outside the heavily fortified gates of the hotel compound. Things are going well until the drive back to the resort, when a more than tipsy James hits a local with their friend’s car. Prisons on La Tolqa are notoriously brutal, and a death sentence for James is a certainty. But through his new acquaintances, James in introduced to a scientific loophole available to those rich enough to pay for it that will spare him his life.
To say more than that would rob Infinity Pool of a considerable amount of its shock and devilish charm, but the genre influences Cronenberg pulls from should be obvious to most who watch it. It’s a mash-up of horror, science-fiction, and comedy that works brilliantly. The humour in Infinity Pool is socially aware and self-reflexive, but never in a way that feels like a pandering cautionary tale about privileged people with loose morals. The characters and their descents into paranoia, grief, and madness are pleasingly well rounded with logically incremental changes along the way. And the explicit gore and sexuality is both unflinching and over the top, straddling the line between being artful, nasty, and parodic. Everything about Cronenberg’s construction clicks here, even if some of his close-ups on body parts and architectural details are sometimes overly indulgent.
Infinity Pool is a solidly Hitchcockian tale of a man dragged deeper and deeper into a situation that once seemed ideal, but has become an inescapable nightmare, as filtered through David Cronenberg’s more fantastical sensibilities. Which is to say that purely as a genre exercise, Infinity Pool delivers the goods and then some, with a cast that’s more than willing to match Brandon Cronenberg’s “down for anything” tone. Skarsgård once again proves to be a versatile performer who rises above and beyond whenever a film calls for him to act out scenes that most other performers would flat out refuse to do. He has wonderful chemistry with Coleman, who brings some much needed warmth and balance to Infinity Pool as the most likeable character. Skarsgård also has a lot of wonderful scenes alongside the impressive Mia Goth as the femme fatale that is attracted to James, but holds the key to a dark, controlling secret.
And while Cronenberg keeps progressing as a fascinating stylist capable of balancing brutal realism with trippy fantasy, it’s his meaningful script that’s the best element of Infinity Pool. Initially, Infinity Pool starts off as a perceptive reflection of the ways resort vacations exploit and annoy local islanders, but once the actual plot kicks into gear these elements mesh seamlessly with a story about the various ways the wealthy insulate themselves from judgment and consequence. Anything can be had for a price, and anyone can be exploited without justice being served. By getting away with one bad act, it opens people of means up to more elaborate and deadlier acts that they can easily skirt with influence, cash, and resources.
The visuals and performances of Infinity Pool stick readily in the mind, but the themes are something equally as haunting. Cronenberg’s third feature is his most thoughtful and fully realized to date, drawing on the potential showed in Antiviral and Possessor. If his father had made Infinity Pool, this would be heralded by critics as a “return to form.” But when Brandon Cronenberg makes something like Infinity Pool, it’s a reason to stand up and take notice.
Infinity Pool opens in select theatres on Friday, January 27, 2023. It was screened as part of the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
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