Consequences in today’s society come on a sliding scale if you’re wealthy. Throwing money around to get yourself out of trouble is a luxury, and going to top resorts in exotic locations without caring how much you spend is another perk of being rich. Brandon Cronenberg’s latest Infinity Pool, his third feature film after Antiviral and Possessor, combines the two situations to bring us a disturbing, yet beautifully grotesque psychological/body-horror/sci-fi mash-up.
James (Alexander Skarsgärd)and Em (Cleopatra Coleman) are a couple vacationing at an exclusive resort in the fictional country of Li Tolqa. It’s beautiful and heavily gated, keeping guests within a defined space. James is a writer, and it’s been six years since his first published book. He’s looking for inspiration, and the beautiful beach and resort should be just the thing to get his creative juices flowing. The couple doesn’t seem to be at ease with each other, and when James meets Gabi (Mia Goth), a fan of his work, things get more interesting.
Along with Gabi’s husband Alban (Jalil Lespert), the couples have dinner together, and Gabi convinces James and Em to go offsite for an afternoon. Venturing outside the resort gates is strictly prohibited, but they leave anyway, having a relaxing, alcohol-fueled day by a secluded beach. When an unexpected encounter with Gabi sobers James up, he’s the only one able to drive the group back through the winding mountain roads after dark. An unfortunate accident sets the stern local authorities upon them, and they face the conservative and strict traditions of this isolated culture, including a troubling law involving executions and the ability to clone humans. The experience is traumatic for James and Em, but he is quickly lured into a world of privilege, carnal pleasures, and unbridled brutality.
Infinity Pool subjects us to uneasiness from the first frame. The camera work is queasy, rotating and turning what we know upside down. The booming score by Tim Hecker (who also did the score for the hauntingly strange Luzifer) lets us know this isn’t a safe environment despite the beauty of its surroundings. Cronenberg captures a brutal bacchanalia and questions morality, power dynamics, and the slippery question of what the self is. The characters adopt a weird disassociative state in this world, risking their identity and exhibiting an extremely skewed view of themselves, right or wrong. It’s a biting commentary on the rich and a general note about resorts that shield people from the surrounding poverty, chaos and disparity.
The devil-may-care attitude of these rich vacationers mimics the old-time (or perhaps current) ritualistic secret societies of the wealthy, where we can only speculate what they got up to. Cronenberg gives us his version of how this type of power can remove guilt and numb their moral compass. And those masks! They hide their ugliness and expose their internally distorted character without shame all at once.
This endless nightmare has impact because of the cast. Goth as the slithery Gabi is pitch perfect: the pretty mean girl who knows how powerful she is within this world. Goth is the latest genre queen, making her mark in A Cure for Wellness and Ti West’s horror duo Pearl and X. It’s a treat to see her go to dark places here, and her magnetic energy absorbs everything around her. Skarsgärd is so good as the malleable James, a man who doesn’t exactly push himself to be his best and someone who needs a strong influence, be it good or bad, guiding him. I was also pleased to see Amanda Brugel and John Ralston—two Canadian mainstays—as creepy resort guests.
The cinematography is drop-dead gorgeous. Karim Hussain, a cinematographer who makes his mark in genre film, does an incredible job of creating visuals that deceive with beautiful seaside waves and stunning sunsets, all a ruse that lulls you into the danger ahead. There are also psychedelic moments (which have significant amounts of strobing for those who are sensitive) that are jarringly good and brilliantly telegraph an unreliable narrative.
I’m reminded of a 2017 film by Ian Lagarde that takes on the western tendency to enjoy the resources of a struggling country “on vacation,” called All You Can Eat Buddha, which gives us a similar theme of an insular experience shielding guests from what happens on the outside, however here, Cronenberg pulls no punches. It’s grotesque, offering a body or “bawdy” horror since he shares DNA with his (and our) horror Papa David Cronenberg, and it’s shocking not because of the gore but because he shows us a world without immediate consequences—but only for certain types of people.
After the buzz of Infinity Pool quiets down, rest assured that you’ll be thinking about the implications of wealth and the inequalities of the world around us for a long time.
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