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{Sundance 2023} Infinity Pool – review

Courtesy of Neon

Following Possessor, Brandon Cronenberg continues wandering in the darkest corners of one’s consciousness with the deliciously deranged Infinity Pool.

Neon’s thriller-horror opened at Sundance last week, as Mia Goth walked the red carpet with co-star Alexander Skarsgård on a leash. A playful entrance that arguably prepares you for the film, as if something could truly equip an audience for such a repulsive, mind-f**king beauty. 

This narrative is more accessible than Cronenberg’s predecessors to an extent. In a way, this allows the story to mess you up all the more. Let it. Allow the Canadian writer-directors new film to take you on a trip to Li Tolqa, a dreamy destination where the waters are clear and the morals decidedly murky. 

Infinity Pool features a dystopian loophole and a moral dilemma

This hostile paradise is where James Foster (Skarsgård) is trying to overcome his writer’s block by vacationing with his well-to-do wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman).

With one poorly received novel under his belt, the author has no intention to actually write. The dangerous prospect of venturing outside the exclusive resort is more appealing to him than staring at a blank page (can you blame him?). Even more so if he’s escorted by seductive actress Gabi (Goth), stroking his ego, amongst other things, during a day at the beach. Meanwhile, her partner, famed architect Alban (Jalil Lespert), and Em are chilling just a few feet away.

Back from a swim in a secluded cove, a tragic accident claims the life of a local man. Dealing with the authorities in a police state is daunting, and James is looking at a severe punishment for manslaughter. When a dystopian loophole lets him off the hook, the payoff ushers in a hyper-personal hell and a reflection on class and accountability.

Brandon Cronenberg’s Body Horror Elements Push the Limits

A flawed game of Chinese boxes, Infinity Pool builds upon the themes of Possessor, extending not an ounce of mercy to James, nor the audience. A relentless ride that casts aside the basic questions about identity and ethics, Cronenberg’s third outing is an agent of chaos. 

Like his sophomore film, Infinity Pool explores dissociative behaviors, double(s), and the idea that individual evolution may run in circles.

It does so through wince-inducing, ultra-violent sequences and sexual hallucinations that well earn it its R-rating. A trippy journey to the center of our being, the film takes detours in unexpected places through drug-enhanced, transformative orgies. Under strobe lights, lusting anatomies warp in an exciting attempt to push the limits of our flesh, with Cronenberg deploying his array of body horror imagery that will prove hard to shake off. Those same gender binary-smashing images will have conservatives clutch their pearls and yell at clouds. 

Mia Goth and Alexander Skarsgård Play Depraved With Gusto

Skarsgård and Goth gleefully lean into the perversions of their characters as we watch in horror and exhilaration.

The Swedish actor delivers a layered turn as James, staring at his demagnetized moral compass but tempted by the possibility of pure, casual cruelness with no consequences to bear. 

Yet, it’s Goth who runs the show with her signature wide-eyed ambiguity slowly descending into utter unhingedness. She’s the star. She so naturally owns the role of Gabi, oozing sexiness and danger in an over-the-top, intoxicating mix that makes us even more eager to watch Ti West’s MaXXXine than we were when Pearl came out months ago.

Infinity Pool and the “Eat the Rich” cinematic canon

If you’ve seen Possessor’s finale, you know Cronenberg isn’t subtle (if not, fix that, please), which is why Infinity Pool’s flimsy, if grotesquely funny, anti-capitalist satire leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. As does the undercooked idea that Li Tolqa could be a proxy for our planet, battered and torn by humans carelessly inhabiting it as if it were a playground where free passes are virtually infinite.

Gabi and her friends’ entitlement is strictly connected to their status. The audience desperately wants to see these characters get their comeuppance while wondering what having that boundless freedom would feel like. As you look for an uneasy answer, the movie reminds you that money can buy anything and could even fabricate a brand new conscience to corrupt and kill at your whim.

It’s a grim prospect for sure, and one through which the movie detaches itself from the recent, naive entries in the “Eat the Rich” canon. Acting like revenge fantasies, the latter films argue there could ever be a form of retribution for the affluent.

Cronenberg offers the opposite of that. Infinity Pool is a nightmarish scenario of immorality, cynically, dishearteningly assuring that nothing will trouble the wealthy, unlikely to perish at the hands of the working class. The cycle of power imbalance will always find new offenders who look an awful lot like the old, the film suggests.

And yet the movie also unexpectedly provides a beacon of hope in its last moments. In its final desolation, Cronenberg’s latest suggests that playing a game with no rules may ultimately eat at the rich till there’s nothing left. Better not hold your breath, though.

Infinity Pool hit cinemas on January 27.