Movies · Reviews

‘Infinity Pool’ is a Visual Feast That Ultimately Runs Shallow

Mia Goth mesmerizes once again in the latest film from Brandon Cronenberg.
Infinity Pool
By  · Published on January 28th, 2023

This article is part of our 2023 Sundance Film Festival coverage. Follow along as we check out the films and filmmakers appearing at the first fest of the new year. In this entry, Rob Hunter reviews Brandon Cronenberg’s Infinity Pool.

They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and that certainly seems to be the case with the work of director Brandon Cronenberg. Like his father, David Cronenberg, he has a fascination with the human body’s, shall we say, darker possibilities. While Cronenberg Sr. secured his cult status through fleshy manipulations — the final reveal in The Brood (1979), the VCR stomach in Videodrome (1983), the transformation in The Fly (1986) — Cronenberg Jr. is content taking the human body as it is… and then royally fucking it up. His sophomore film, Possessor (2020), remains his zenith on that point so far, but his latest isn’t far behind. Infinity Pool is a playful film about excess, debauchery, carnage, and consequence, but its focus isn’t the usual easy target.

James (Alexander Skarsgård) and Em Foster (Cleopatra Coleman) are a happy-ish seeming couple vacationing at an all-inclusive resort on the island of La Tolqa. There’s shopping, restaurants, razor-topped fences — everything you could hope for to help forget the stresses of life, work, and a loveless marriage. James wrote a book that nobody read, and Em is heir to a publishing house fortune, and neither will let the other forget it. Their lazy doldrums are upset after meeting another couple, Gabi (Mia Goth) and Alban (Jalil Lespert), who introduce them to some off-limits partying outside the resort’s compound. One surprise handjob later, though, and James’ world is turned upside down.

A hit and run lands him in a different kind of grip altogether as La Tolqa’s severe and quick justice system condemns him to death — unless he can afford door number two. He can pay for a clone to be brutalized and executed in his place leaving him free to go. Turns out all the wealthy folks are doing it, and soon the timid, insecure James discovers a taste for the power of guilt and consequence-free living.

Fictional “eat the rich” scenarios are growing more and more common these days for obvious reasons, but while Infinity Pool gives off initial vibes of the likes of The Menu and White Lotus, it’s actually far more in line with something like Westworld. Well, the themes of Westworld more than the eventual outcome. Cronenberg isn’t shying away from the banal and boisterous evils of the ultra rich, and he’s certainly not approving of their lifestyle, but he’s not interested in punishing them either. Instead, the film’s target is the person whose envy for that lifestyle outweighs his moral judgement. James is that target, and his tumultuous takedown is that focus.

Skarsgård does good work here playing against type as a timid man on a virtual leash held by his wife’s money and power — one he soon trades in for a very real one. While initially shocked at Gabi’s audacious behavior and his brush with near death at the hands of the authorities, James quickly becomes enthralled by and addicted to the rush of consequence-free living. Still, try as he might, he doesn’t quite fit in with the in crowd. A more traditional film would see him take these folks down a peg or two, but Cronenberg’s film doesn’t see James as a victim of anything but his own amateur savagery.

While Skarsgård keys down his usual intensity, Goth fully embraces her demon within with another wild and charismatic performance. Gabi is a button-pusher bored by life’s limitations elsewhere and fully invested in what’s possible on La Torqa. She lures the very willing James into her clique, but it’s clear there’s no affection in her motivation, and the result is a fairly frightening performance. Drugs, sex, and violence swirl into a cocktail of hallucinatory imagery and aberrant behavior, and Cronenberg doesn’t shy away from the results.

An R-rated cut will trim some of his choices, but the unrated version (which played Sundance) features a handjob to completion, a gory head pummeling, and an orgy montage complete with more glimpses of genital glee. They’re the scenes likely to garner the most conversation, but credit is due more to Infinity Pool‘s production design and world-building. The fictional island country feels just real enough, and while Cronenberg wisely avoids getting mired in the science of the cloning technology it’s not something you’ll stop to question. Strobe lights, hazy montages, and sharp reveals all work to shape a rising intensity ensuring the film’s visuals remain its strength.

Infinity Pool‘s story, such as it is, is arguably more straightforward than Cronenberg’s previous film, but it lacks Possessor‘s emotion and gut punch of a third act. Both movies ramp up the explicit physical elements (both sexual and violent), but where Possessor pairs it with an emotional throughline and real weight, Infinity Pool is left feeling like a slight commentary on the wannabes among us. They’re weak posers who no one wants by their side, and the result is less of a film with a compelling conclusion and more of a simple morality tale with escalating extremes. The ultra wealthy are bad, but the bootlickers in our own ranks are seemingly worse.

To be clear, it’s an entertaining enough journey with some real high points — almost all of them due to Goth — but there’s no lasting effect that stays with you after the end credits roll. Characters head out from their vacation already thinking about their lives back home, and viewers do the same leaving the film as detached and consequence free as a tropical vacation on the island of La Tolqa.

Follow all of our Sundance Film Festival coverage here.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.