We’re all guilty of indulging in a little self-destructive behavior every once in a while. But while for me the extent of that may be shoveling an entire pizza in my face in one sitting, for James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård), it’s the idea of what he can get away with by throwing some money around that proves too tempting to escape. Writer/director Brandon Cronenberg’s Infinity Pool, his follow-up to his 2020 sci-fi/horror feature Possessor, is funnier and more perverse than the latter, but lacks a certain sharpness in the writing that could have made it hit harder.
James is a washed-up novelist who wrote one book six years ago that was a critical and commercial dud. He’s now coasting by on his wife Em’s (Cleopatra Coleman) wealth; at the start of Infinity Pool, they’re vacationing together at a seaside resort on a fictional island country, where the cultural traditions of the native population are commercialized for the guests’ entertainment (in the opening scenes, a resort employee is inviting the guests to purchase the admittedly creepy masks used in a local celebration at the gift shop). It’s clear for their few interactions early on that James and Em’s relationship is distant at best, and it only becomes even more so after James meets Gabi (Mia Goth), a young woman who immediately compliments him on his book and invites him and Em to join her and her husband Alban (Jalil Lespert) for dinner. Their idyllic trip is turned upside-down, however, when, at the end of a drunken afternoon spent outside the confines of the resort, James strikes and kills a local man on the drive back. The next day, he is arrested, and the authorities give him two options: execution, or—if he can pay for it—the creation of a clone of himself that he can then watch be executed in his stead.
Brandon Cronenberg is the son of David, but while elements of his father’s trademarks can be glimpsed in the younger Cronenberg’s work, Brandon seems more preoccupied with what’s going on in the head than with the body. Infinity Pool glides past the intricacies of the cloning process to examine its consequences on the psyche. While Em is horrified by the whole idea and at having to watch the murder of an exact double of her husband and wants to leave the country immediately, James is intrigued. Turns out, he’s not the only one: there’s a whole group of rich tourists at the resort to travel there to commit crimes, knowing that they can buy their way out of whatever the consequences are, and they are quick to fold James into their clique.
The remainder of the film slips lucidly in and out of drug-hazed orgies and wild acts of violence. Along with its blackly humorous touches here and there, it’s just weird enough to fascinate, just seductive and repulsive enough to titillate without being totally isolating. Skarsgård excretes about every bodily fluid imaginable over the course of the movie, and while his performance is perhaps a little too low-energy at times, it’s an appropriate vibe for a man who’s so down-and-out. It’s really Goth’s increasingly unhinged portrayal of Gabi that’s a pleasure to watch every time she appears on screen. But the unique circumstances all lead to a fairly predictable place, and that’s where Infinity Pool—so named for those swimming pools that look straight out over the water with seemingly no end, an amenity so often identified with those whose wealth also seems to see no end—falters. Whatever commentary on privilege there is too shallow to be cutting, and the eventual arcs of James and motivations of Gabi and her group are too obvious to serve as an effective wrench in the plot. Maybe we’ve just gotten too many “eat the rich” movies over the last year and I’m tired, although the interesting thing about Infinity Pool is that it’s not focused on showing the characters’ eventual comeuppance, but rather on showing how this class of people can continually buy their way out of anything and everything and go back to their life as if nothing had happened. While this Infinity Pool may not have a deep end, its disturbing visuals, wild characters, and creative vision know no bounds.
Infinity Pool is now playing in theaters. Runtime: 117 minutes. Rated R.