We’ve seen a lot of series and movies lately that place the privileged few in exotic foreign locales — either played for drama and location envy (The White Lotus), dietary horror (The Menu) or California lifestyle mockery (The Drop, Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery).
It’s the privilege part that gets a bit overlooked. The elements are certainly present — entitlement, racism, conspicuous consumption — but these works still feature a few sympathetic, pretty characters and (some) familiar dramatic arcs mixed in with broad satire.
Infinity Pool takes a wildly different approach. It’s a bleak look at hedonism and cultural imperialism with a plethora of body horror and an actual warning about seizures and strobe lights (well, at least at our screening). Sex and violence are constant and often intertwined, as are bodily fluids and, warning, genitalia close-ups. Given that there’s a Cronenberg involved — that would be Brandon, the son of David and director of recent oddball genre titles like Antiviral and Possessor — there are also plenty of unexpected and squeamish twists.
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The plot is fairly straightforward: While staying at an isolated island resort in the fictional country of La Tolqa, James (Alexander Skarsgärd) and Em (Cleopatra Coleman) get sidetracked by a mysterious couple, Gabi (Mia Goth) and Alban (Jalil Lespert). The buddy foursome ignores warnings and leaves the resort grounds for a drunken beach day trip — which includes the first of several close-up shots of a sexual encounter. An accident on their return leads to a violent run-in with local authorities.
Composer Tim Hecker undercuts all this early scenic beauty with constant, atonal discord while resort employees saunter around in grotesque masks (a local tradition, they say) and Cronenberg leans on disoriented angles and washed-out colors. And then things get weird (spoilers ahead): Faced with the death penalty for killing and covering up a deadly car accident, James and Em are given the option to pay a lot of money to have body doubles created, who will then be stabbed and killed by a surviving family member while the guilty (but alive) couple watches.
Cronenberg uses this twist not as a focus but simply as a launching point for more depravity and bad choices, with a shocked and devastated James egged on by Gabi, Alban and their friends to revel in this post-death lifestyle. A gluttony of sex, murder and hallucinogenic drug use follows. And don’t wait for a redemption arc.
Besides shock and horror, Cronenberg also plays these scenes for dark comedy — a tense mid-movie execution ends with a cinematic sleight of hand (and audience laughs). Earlier, a seemingly more aware James blithely comments on the resort’s cultural confusion (“why would they have a Chinese restaurant?”) before succumbing to the worst behaviors, joining his newfound friends in treating both the resort workers and the locals as literally disposable.
For a movie with a lot of cloning, Cronenberg (who also wrote the screenplay) doesn’t spend too much time directly pondering the notion of whether or not the protagonists are originals or the copied doubles, although that idea certainly underlines their increasingly destructive behavior.
As for the cast: This is pretty much a standoff between a slowly disintegrating and debased Skarsgärd against a seductively evil Goth, who after this and last year’s Ti West horror flick X — another movie where outsiders treated locals with fear and disdain — should dominate genre films for years to come.
Infinity Pool offers visceral … well, not thrills, but plenty of existential questions wrapped up in a two-hour shower of blood and semen. If the story and moralizing don’t quite coalesce by the end, it’s still a movie you’ll be thinking about for the next few months. Particularly if you’re planning an island getaway.
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