- Reviewed from the 2023 Sundance Film Festival
Brandon Cronenberg’s new thriller Infinity Pool imagines a world where it’s possible to get away with murder, provided 1) you’re willing to pay a steep price for the privilege, and 2) you don’t mind being a corpse. The film is set in a fictional seaside tourist-trap country called La Tolqa, whose ruling authorities have access to technologies that allow them to clone any foreigner who transgresses against the locals, a nifty trick that turns capital punishment into just another exotic spectacle. Staring down the sight of his own doppelgänger being knifed to death – the agreed-upon punishment for mowing down a farmer during a drunk-driving escapade – novelist James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård) looks horrified, relieved and intrigued: what, he wonders, are the other fringe benefits to being expendable?
Taken as a satire of Western exploitation and decadence, Infinity Pool feels like a spiritual sequel to the Hostel films (2005-11), swapping out politicised Bush-era torture porn for a more ideologically anodyne (though no less viscerally crunchy) species of cautionary fable. The underlying joke is that Jake – by all accounts talentless, his one novel having been published solely by the graces of his industry-titan father-in-law – already carries himself like a clone, and his adventures in La Tolqa, mostly in the company of sexy fellow Westerner Gabi (Mia Goth), end up activating his humanity – albeit at its basest and most craven, and at great personal risk.
An underrated comic actor who’s gradually learned to play against his golden-god looks, Skarsgård modulates James’s descent into depravity with witty, sweaty aplomb, while Goth – currently on a genre-goddess winning streak with Ti West’s X series (2022-) – exults in her character’s demagnetised moral compass: she wallows in blood and gore like she’s Esther Williams in a backlot swimming pool.
The real showcase, though, is for Cronenberg, whose collaboration with DoP Karim Hussain, continuing on from 2021’s Possessor, yields the kind of pulsing, stroboscopic intensity that can render narrative clarity impossible – or irrelevant. While it would be nice to report that, three features in, the director has emerged even incrementally out of his (dis)comfort zone, the opposite is true: Infinity Pool is so submerged in its own meticulously oblique montage and soundscapes that we’re obliged to dive in headfirst. A movie this technically skilled – and, in its way, gutsy – should deserve more than a Jean Brodie-ish acknowledgment that, for people who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing they’ll like. But in the absence of anything that might mitigate or contextualise Cronenberg’s atrocity exhibition – like, say, the affecting, complex parental themes of Possessor – it’s hard to say much else.
► Infinity Pool is in UK cinemas now.