There is just about every bodily fluid one could imagine seeing on screen in Brandon Cronenberg’s brutal yet oddly beautiful Infinity Pool. Vomit, semen and blood are all part of the grotesque debauchery he drags us into. Like he did in his prior film, 2020’s picturesque nightmare Possessor, the son of director David Cronenberg brings us right up into the squishiness of these corporeal elements and then merges them with a science fiction-infused meditation on violence, desire and depravity. While not as sharp as that prior film, there is still a joy in seeing him cutting deep into a fantastical, fleshy world — riveting to behold in its grim glory. First premiering this past weekend at the Sundance Film Festival, it is a darkly funny gem. One can only stare at it with a combination of awe and disgust.
It all begins with the struggling writer James, played by Alexander Skarsgård (The Northman), who has gone on vacation to a fictional island somewhere in Eastern Europe where he hopes to find inspiration for his next book. He is there with his wife, Em, Dopesick‘s Cleopatra Coleman, who comes from money and is financing this trip (as well as their entire lives). The resort destination, while containing beautiful vistas, is starkly lit and feels more like a sort of purgatory, one that Cronenberg turns on its head to a dizzying degree. Everything is artificial with a recurring gag of an employee appropriating various rich cultural practices that can be sold to the wealthy guests. In the middle of all this, James encounters the charismatic yet creepy Gabi, who will forever alter the course of his life.
Played to perfection by the modern horror icon Mia Goth — of both X and Pearl from last year — she invites James and his wife to accompany her and her husband on a picnic outside the resort. Though he doesn’t know the couple, James agrees. While Em is skeptical of this outing, Gabi hooks James by gushing about how much she loves his writing, which makes him overlook any of his wife’s concerns. His ego won’t be the last thing that gets stroked, as there are many unsettling sex scenes where Cronenberg shows everything via extreme close-ups. He repeatedly fixates on the body from the mouth to the eyes and, yes, the phallus. After night falls on the beach, they make their way back in a rented car. With everyone either drunk or tired, James offers to drive. He subsequently hits a local farmer, killing him, flees, and is arrested the next day. Sentenced to death, James is given the opportunity to pay for a double to take his place in an execution he must watch. While Em is horrified, James has the opposite reaction: He loves it.
This is where the film shifts from being more lightly humorous into being something approaching a satire of how the wealthy treat other countries as playgrounds for them to act with impunity. It is quite blunt about this, but it serves the story well as we see just how quickly James begins to get swept up in this new lifestyle that is only just a more obvious version of the one he was already living. Gabi, as we soon learn, had hoped for this to happen, and Goth delicately teases out the madness of the situation to magnificent effect. She circles each panoply of murder and mayhem like a tiger that is waiting for the opportunity to strike. When James begins to have doubts, she turns up the intensity even further in a series of scenes late in the film that are as splendid as they are sinister.
There are plenty of hallucinogenic sequences sprinkled throughout all this, which use similar techniques from Possessor, ones that turn the body into something inhuman, but the real power comes in its playful psychological terror. There are just so many wonderfully dark jokes that grow increasingly more bleak in what they reveal about James. Cronenberg shows us how men like him can become cruel with such an ease — you realize all it took was an opportunity for them to do so. This culminates in a conclusion that leaves us with one final unnerving punchline, one which reveals his morality to be the greatest illusion of all. ♦
Directed by Brandon Cronenberg
Starring Alexander Skarsgård, Mia Goth, Cleopatra Coleman