For anyone wondering what it feels like to be on hallucinogens, stumbling their way through unspeakable horrors while questioning the very fabric of reality, boy is there a movie for you! Ultraviolent and beautifully realized, there is just not enough words to describe the feeling of heaviness and unease the viewer is left with long after the credits roll. Brandon Cronenberg’s Infinity Pool is probably one of the most grotesque, uncomfortable movies I have ever watched in a theater. Its brand of horror dips toes in several sub genres, from sci-fi, to body horror, to psychological, and even home invasion. Ultimately though, Infinity Pool may be impossible to categorize—with visuals this succinct, performances this powerful, and eye-popping sequences that border on pornographic, Cronenberg’s picture is destined to become another instant-classic horror feast for the senses.
The film begins with a flashing light/seizure warning, and for good reason. My editor, Allison, fell victim to severe motion sickness just from the sheer intensity of the camera angles in this opening bit. Aspiring writer James (Skarsgård) and his wealthy wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) have come to an exclusive island resort in the fictional country of Li Tolqa for rest and relaxation; the primary focus for James is inspiration for a second book, after taking a six-year hiatus from the craft. The rainy season approaches, signaling a potential end to their time away. Em wanders off to take a boat tour of the island formations, leaving James alone. Enter: bright and bubbly Gabi (Goth), instantly touchy with James. “I love your book,” she chimes vibrantly, before introducing herself, and inviting James and Em for dinner with her partner Alban (Jalil Lespert).
An actress for commercials, Gabi shares more than a couple similarities to Mia Goth’s titular character in Pearl. She does a weird demonstration of her talents over the meal, which include “failing naturally” at cutting bread normally with a knife. Much is said of the fact that James has “married rich,” and is coasting by on the money from Em’s publisher father. Even in these early scenes, Mia Goth is already beginning to steal the show. By the end of their initial dinner, James and Em are both comfortable enough to agree to a picturesque daytime trip with Gabi and Alban. They almost don’t even care that they are technically forbidden from leaving the resort strip! As they ride off deep into the mountains, poverty is surrounds the group, lurking in the shadows around every corner. Their time away is spent in a lush landscape bursting with greenery and vibrant water. Only twenty minutes into Infinity Pool, and the audience is already privy to a scene with an erect penis and ejaculation that borders on pornographic, completely free of consent. The wheels of manipulation have begun turning long before our central characters are even remotely aware of what is happening.
On the ride back from this sweet getaway, a terrible accident happens that results in the death of a local stranger that unfortunately stumbled out into the middle of the road. In a scene evoking I Know What You Did Last Summer, the group surrounds the dying man in horror, jumping to conclusions about what consequences they will face. Under pressure from their two new friends, James and Em reluctantly agree to flee the scene of their hit and run to head back to the resort. It turns out the best course of action is to just face no consequences at all. Nevertheless, the authorities round up all four of them separately—Thresh (Thomas Kretschmann), a detective, informs James that almost any crime committed here is punishable by death. The person who carries out the sentence must be the son of the victim, if it so applies, otherwise law enforcement will carry out the execution. However, there is one major loophole for the rich: for a fee, Thresh offers to craft a clone for James that he will send to be executed in his stead! James, forced to sign away his own body, steps into the cloning goo, as Cronenberg catapults us fully into a world of mayhem, courtesy of Gabi.
Infinity Pool has a strange take on cloning the likes of which I have never seen depicted before. Cronenberg, initially metamorphosing the film as a short story, throws everything and the kitchen sink into this full-bodied experience. James is introduced to a whole new world of rich friends who thrive on decadence and acting dangerously. They wear deformed masks and invade homes, engage in outrageous orgies, and go on senseless adventures driven by their ballooning egos. Em looks on in disbelief at what James is becoming, but she cannot seem to stop his wildest impulses.
A24 wunderkind Mia Goth wows again in a manic performance worthy of being added to her already-impressive filmography. Alexander Skarsgård, an actor I have admired for decades now, follows up his role-of-a-lifetime Amleth in last year’s The Northman by depicting an appalling character making questionable decisions. While other supporting players are notable, Infinity Pool is Goth and Skarsgård’s film through and through. Goth simply reciting a review is a true highlight of the movie; Skarsgård strapped to a leash on a collar is another. Cronenberg directs with a mesmerizing eye for visual splendor—even brutal depictions of graphic sexual content and sadistic violence reach a hypnotic level of cinematic art. I felt similarly about Possessor, young Cronenberg’s previous film, but Infinity Pool cranks up its sci-fi horror charms to a whole new plateau of existence. Filmed partly in an old power plant in Hungary, Infinity Pool establishes a grimy atmosphere that clings to the viewer like a thick cloning goo.
Infinity Pool’s bleakness and sorrow may pair well with a nice bucket of fried chicken and a full bottle of wine. As my thoughts on the film come to a close, I am left with the sudden realization that more than a few of my favorite films from last year—The Menu, Triangle of Sadness, Glass Onion—focused on searing takedowns of the snooty elite. Infinity Pool takes aim at the rich and untouchable in an entirely different way than those three features, yet is equally as successful in its deconstruction and harsh takeaways. The people in this film have no consequences for any of their abhorrent actions. They are content strictly acting out their every whim, with zero care who they will hurt and why. Perhaps Brandon Cronenberg’s viewpoint will not be everyone’s cup of tea; this much is obvious from the graphic nature of the visuals alone. In the same breath, it is impossible to deny their power, or the hypnotizing pall Cronenberg casts.
Infinity Pool screened at 2023’s Sundance Film Festival. Take a dip in its waters of depravity when the film heads to theaters everywhere on Friday, January 27th.