THE STORY – James and Em Foster take off to an all-inclusive beach getaway in the fictional state of Li Tolqa to help jump-start his writer’s block. Their lazy days are spent relegated to their pricey resort, isolated from the surrounding land. Gabby introduces herself and her partner, Al, as she’s a fan of James’ last novel, and they would like to spend some time together with the Fosters. The couples plan a secret daytrip outside the compound that ends in a fatal accident with James to blame. For a hefty price, there are loopholes to aid foreign travelers convicted of crimes there, which is how James is first introduced to a perverse subculture of hedonistic tourism.
THE CAST – Alexander Skarsgård, Mia Goth, Cleopatra Coleman, Jalil Lespert, Thomas Kretschmann & Amanda Brugel
THE TEAM – Brandon Cronenberg (Director/Writer)
THE RUNNING TIME – 118 Minutes
Following in the footsteps of a famous parent can be challenging. Following in the footsteps of a famous parent who revolutionized and reinvented a film genre is another thing entirely. But luckily for Brandon Cronenberg, it seems that his father’s penchant for producing innovative imagery in the areas of physical and psychological horror was genetic, as Brandon has already quickly made a name for himself following his first two features, “Antiviral” and “Possessor.” The latter, in particular, struck a chord with the film community, itself premiering at the Sundance Film Festival just three years ago, where audiences were equally appalled and awestruck by the gorgeously gory sights and story before them. The goodwill generated by that film – both for Cronenberg’s courageous creativity and the passionately involved performances from Andrea Riseborough (the woman of the hour) and Christopher Abbott – sent anticipation for Cronenberg’s third feature, this week’s “Infinity Pool” into the stratosphere, and although it isn’t quite as fully formed as the film that preceded it, it’s ultimately another example of Cronenberg’s urgently necessary original voice in the genre space and audacious auteurism.
The film follows one James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård) – an author who has one novel to his name and is in endless development on his second – as he vacations with his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) on the fictional island of La Tolqua. A chance encounter with a woman named Gabi Bauer (Mia Goth), a fan of James’ book, and her husband Alban (Jalil Lespert) leads to a fleeting vacation friendship, in which both couples take to a nearby beach one day for a little R&R (against resort rules, mind you), and upon returning to their hotel, James – driving while still drunk – hits a local farmer and kills him. Upon the Bauers’ insistence (who warn that the La Tolquans are not to be messed with), all four drive off and leave the farmer’s body behind. Still, the next day, James is apprehended at the hotel by local police, where he’s informed of the island’s strict regulations regarding crime: a transgression such as this must result in execution, but the rich are able to buy their way out of such an act through La Tolqua’s revolutionary cloning technology, which allows a “double” of oneself to take their place for this punishment. After opting into this procedure once, James becomes intoxicated by the possibility of committing a crime with next-to-no repercussions, losing himself to the perverse potential of such a lifestyle, egged on by Gabi and Alban.
What Brandon Cronenberg has with “Infinity Pool” is one helluva hook, some scathing social commentary on the wealthy’s ability to avoid accountability for the chaos they cause, and a fantastic first hour that instantly immerses us into this wicked world and fills us head-to-toe with fear at the possibilities it poses. Figuring everything out for the first time right alongside James and Em truly is a raucous – and almost unbearably tense – thrill ride, culminating in the crude murder of James’ first double, as he (and we) are forced to bear witness. Cronenberg’s savage sense of pacing and the cold, unflinching camera pulls us into the progression of these scenes with no problem – we are there, hanging on to every word and wincing at every act of vicious violence with our full attention, just as he desires. It’s when the story becomes more aimless in the second act and beyond where “Infinity Pool” loses a bit of its bite, rehashing points it’s already made and causing them to lose some of their provocations as a result. Without treading too far into spoiler territory, James finds himself drawn into a local troupe of tyrannous elites, including Gabi and Alban, who have been spending their vacations wreaking havoc on the island with reckless abandon, continually using “doubles” to take the fall for any crimes they commit. Such a story turn is a natural evolution of James’ identity following his initial awareness of the potential provided by these doubles, but eventually, all this senseless violence begins to blend together, not saying anything new.
Through it all, Cronenberg undoubtedly wrings the most suspense out of these setpieces possible and works to make us feel the thrill of the perpetrators and the fear of their victims simultaneously. Still, with each successive scene, he isn’t adding much to his initial assessment of the enmity of the elite or troubles posed by “cultural tourism.” It all escalates into an appropriately chaotic climax, but the resolution is (admittedly purposely) restrained, and it seems as if it took James a lot longer to come to the film’s final realization than it did the audience, who reached such an understanding an hour prior. Still, as mentioned before, even if the story overall isn’t as engaging as “Possessor’s,” Cronenberg maintains – and in some ways, elevates – his stark, unsparing style on display in that film. He’s again assisted immensely by two towering performances, this time from Alexander Skarsgård and current scream queen Mia Goth, who may be the movie’s MVP. Skarsgård sells James’ draw to – and later disgust of – crime with no costs with subtle sincerity, while Goth soars (and screams) as the siren drawing him deeper into the depths of depravity, weaponizing her sensuality to do so and appealing to James’ animalistic sexual desires. Their torturous tête-à-tête – and Cronenberg’s aforementioned control of this anarchy – is as good a reason as any to give “Infinity Pool” one watch. However, it might not be a swim you’ll want to take again.