Infinity Pool Review: A Hallucinogenic Dive Into Depravity
Even before a single glimpse at the film emerged, Infinity Pool became one of the most anticipated genre efforts of the year. From filmmaker Brandon Cronenberg, who found success with his Antiviral and Possessor Uncut, and starring Alexander Skarsgård and Mia Goth, audiences knew that they couldn't ever be prepared for whatever these collaborators could unleash on unsuspecting viewers. Adding even more unhinged fuel to the excitement were the early reports that initial cuts of the film were NC-17, leading fans to speculate about what could be so disturbing that even an R rating couldn't contain its terror. Infinity Pool does live up to that anticipation, delivering audiences both a gruesome and sexually charged reflection of the wealthy exploiting their power, even if the overall message doesn't entirely venture into unexplored territory.
Struggling author James (Skarsgård) and rich partner Em (Cleopatra Coleman) attempt to enjoy a relaxing vacation, ultimately crossing paths with Gabi (Goth), but when a tragedy occurs, James is forced to reckon with his fatal punishment. For those with the resources, though, a double can be crafted to incur the punishment, resulting in the real James spiraling into excess and hedonism in the wake of the realization that the elite can even use their money to escape the concept of death.
Cronenberg once again manages to push the limits of taste with the intense and hypnotic visuals he puts to screen, refusing to compromise his vision, no matter how boundary-pushing it might be. There's surely some discomforting visuals contained in the film, both sexual and violent in nature, yet he handles these conceptually graphic sequences with maturity. Unlike other films in the genre space, which aim to shock in sacrifice of the story, the more gripping sequences in Infinity Pool all exist on the same spectrum, with only a handful of shots depicting things that couldn't be shown in an R-rated cut. With an R-rated version of the film being what is released in theaters, and with this version reportedly just swapping out certain shots for tamer visuals, the overall vision of the film will likely be maintained in this alternate version. Additionally, with some of the more gripping sequences (apart from the brutal stabbings and beatings) being drug-induced frenzies, the more experimental filmmaking techniques feel entirely reflective of what our characters are feeling, as opposed to an arbitrary attempt to unsettle the audience.
Another staple of Cronenberg that he continues with Infinity Pool is pushing what feels like real-world science just enough to explore the realm of science fiction yet in ways that still manage to feel believable. While he avoids explicitly detailing how crafting a clone is possible, this process merely represents how the wealthy have access to a world that is entirely unknown to your average person, using this concept to showcase the otherworldly divide between the haves and the have-nots. Despite the potentially intimidating concept, the experience is a lot more accessible than one might think; to put it into HBO terms, Infinity Pool is more heightened than The White Lotus yet more grounded than Westworld.
Even though the overall experience is disturbing, provocative, and all-too-real, being able to boil the film down into HBO surrogates highlights that the story doesn't break new ground. As artists have grown increasingly aware and irritated by capitalistic divides, we've seen a surge of stories that comment on how the rich seem to exist in an alternate reality in which societal rules no longer apply to them. Whether it be because we can't quite fathom the daily activities of such elites or because of how corporations, politicians, and members of law enforcement manage to constantly skirt having to take responsibility for any wrongdoings that average civilians would be reprimanded for, storytellers have managed to both cope with and shine a light on this divide by exploring them through allegories on the big screen.
Cronenberg does manage to succeed in his restraint when it comes to tackling these themes, as he's not necessarily making a commentary on the world's wealthy at large, as he manages to put a select group of individuals under a magnifying glass. This limited scope also allows him to dive into a variety of other depraved themes, putting the focus back on the characters and their personal identities as opposed to painting in broad strokes. Another theme that is only briefly touched upon, which other feature films could likely spend their entire run time exploring, is James' curiosity over whether he himself is a clone or if he's his true identity. It's a fascinating conundrum, but the little time that these characters spend dissecting this question manages to spotlight how it's almost entirely irrelevant to elite society. It could be argued that if the story was even more insular or possibly pushed these ideas to a larger group of characters, the messages could have become a bit more clear, though this take on these concepts is still quite effective.
Back in 2022, Mia Goth earned acclaim for her performances in both X and Pearl, while Alexander Skarsgård earned praise for his work in The Northman. The pair are once again showcasing how they aren't performers who rest on their laurels, pushing themselves further and taking on even more challenging roles. In Goth's horror films last year, she played multiple roles, embracing the idea of both a victim and a tormentor, while Infinity Pool allows her to escalate her manipulative and sadistic character into frightening realms. Similarly, while Skarsgård showcased his more barbaric power in The Northman, this film sees the physically imposing performer internalizing everything his character has experienced to the point of portraying merely a husk of his former self. If audiences weren't already singing the praises of Goth and Skarsgård, Infinity Pool only cements their legacies as fearless performers in the genre realm.
In the feature-film space, Cronenberg hasn't missed yet, fully continuing the intimidating reputation of his family. Given how last year saw his father David Cronenberg unleash Crimes of the Future, an experience that was impressive yet was both too obvious and too ambiguous in its themes, Infinity Pool blends high-concept allegories with alluring characters and imagery. Even if the movie doesn't bring anything entirely new to the space of societal satire, it is a nightmarish excursion into the depths of depravity only afforded by those with deep enough pockets.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Infinity Pool lands in theaters on January 27th.