Opening on an idyllic yet unsettling foreign resort, Infinity Pool ensures its viewers are perched on the edge of their seats from the very beginning, grimly awaiting the inevitable terror to come. The third film from the heir-apparent to his father’s sci-fi-horror throne, writer-director Brandon Cronenberg successfully sidesteps any reliance on his name. Instead, a masterfully crafted introductory sequence, complete with mesmerising 360-degree environmental shots sets failing novelist James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård), his publishing heiress wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman), and their troubled marriage against the backdrop of Li Tolqa – a country so purportedly dangerous and impoverished that guests are forbidden to leave the resort unaccompanied. The couple appear doomed to fester on beach loungers for the remainder of their stay while James searches for inspiration, until a seemingly chance encounter with apparent fan Gabi Bauer (Mia Goth) and her husband Alban (Jalil Lespert) causes their holiday to take a dramatic left turn.
This establishing third is arguably where the film shines most brightly. A muted colour palette, artistic angles, and a droning, insistent score from Tim Hecker manifest an overwhelming sense of anticipatory dread as the quartet covertly borrow a car and escape the sanitised confines of the resort. The sheer horror of the moment when James accidentally hits and brutally kills a local man en-route home is palpable and does nothing to release the tension, ever growing as the tourists turn tail from their crime, knowing that the penalty in Li Tolqa is death. James is arrested the next morning nonetheless, and the crux of the film’s plot is revealed: for a hefty sum, foreign criminals may have a body double, sharing every physical detail and memory with the original, built to die for them. James is ‘copied’ in a scene literally filled with the red, amorphous goop seen in many of the film’s posters, and later watches on as his mirror image is gutted in a stark and graphic execution ceremony.
Unfortunately, the introduction of Infinity Pool’s most inventive concept is also where the film begins to lose traction. A several minute psychedelic sequence whilst James is copied, though warned about prior to the beginning of the film, features flashing and strobe effects so violent that it will prove entirely unwatchable to many viewers who have medical conditions triggered by such visuals. There is little substance to warrant such editing, and the effect ultimately feels lazy: why has Cronenberg, having previously proven his skill to disturb and discomfort with the content of his narratives, chosen to pointlessly alienate a section of his audience with footage designed to make the viewer feel physically unwell? A similar scene is repeated in the latter half of the film, marking the return of Em, who disappears midway through the plot with little fanfare, and even if you weren’t physically or metaphorically sick of the effect the first time around, you likely will be the second.
Beyond technical complaints, the plot concurrently dissolves into a ‘rich people doing terrible things for kicks’ affair, which doesn’t exactly inspire, though the performances are inarguably stellar. Mia Goth is positively unhinged as Gabi shows her true, morally-disassociated colours, and more than deserves the praise she is receiving as a modern scream queen. Conversely, Skarsgård has perhaps never been more sweaty and unappealing, but his transformation from traditionally attractive male lead to disturbed, pitiful pretender is an achievement in itself. The problem hinges on the fact that, while engaging, these characters are simply unlikable. Even James, while initially somewhat sympathetic in his accident-fulled shell-shock, quickly outstays his welcome following his further crimes.
The absurdly wealthy flying out to a third-world country to commit atrocities against the local, non-white population unfortunately more than checks out, and overshadows the more cerebral questions about the doubling process posed by the concept. As one of the characters poses themselves earlier on, “Do you worry they got the wrong man?” How can we, or they, ever be sure that the survivor is carbon, or copy? And if the doubles are truly identical, right down to nature and nurture thanks to their shared memories, does it truly matter?
Cronenberg asks us to consider the destruction of the soul, wrapped up in themes of capitalist colonialism, and then wastes much of his runtime meticulously tracking a spate of criminal debauchery that we see much less of the high-concept punishment for. The film is certainly bloody, and fans of the squishier side of body horror will more than get a kick out of it, but there remains the sense that the concept here could be followed far deeper than the shallow pool Cronenberg has elected to paddle in.
An Unrated version of Infinity Pool is available to rent on NEON Cinema online in the USA now
by Isobel Frost
Isobel (she/her) is a freelance writer and aspiring entertainment journalist from Yorkshire. She is a steadfast enjoyer of all things visual media and is guaranteed to cry at most of it. Her favourite films include Lilo & Stitch and The Lost Boys, which, if nothing else, proves she contains multitudes. You can find her on Twitter and Substack.
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