- Infinity Pool
- Written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg
- Starring Alexander Skarsgard, Mia Goth and Thomas Kretschmann
- Classification R; 117 minutes
- Opens in theatres Jan. 27
If we must connect Brandon Cronenberg’s third feature film, Infinity Pool, to the work of his father David, best to get it out of the way early.
Yes, both generations of the Cronenberg clan display an affinity for the grotesque and the bloody – just as the father tears flesh away with abandon across his filmography, so, too, does the son split heads and slit throats here. And yes, both directors find distinct pleasures in the pain of nightmares, in approaching and then crossing the blurry line that divides reality and dreams. Oh, and they also both seem to have a thing for Chinese restaurants – David’s eXistenZ uses one as a filthy pit-stop on the way to Hell, while Brandon’s Infinity Pool does much the same, albeit in a more palatable and seductive manner.
But as Brandon’s second feature, 2020′s Possessor, hinted at and now Infinity Pool confirms, the younger Cronenberg is his own man, harder-edged and more hallucinatory in vision. He has shades of his father, certainly, but his vision is his own, singular, fully formed and with no means of imitation. Which is also the great joke at the heart of Brandon’s new film, an eat-the-rich fantasia whose central conceit revolves around clones, copies, imitations. In its own gut-churning way, Infinity Pool asks whether humans are so simple a creature that our essence can simply be copied, over and over again, until the original vessel is rendered a shell of nothingness. Clearly, Brandon has no illusions about outrunning his father’s legacy, so why not have fun with the inevitable expectations and comparisons?
Set in the fictional Euro-somewhere state of Li Tolqa, Infinity Pool opens at a luxury beach resort, where James (Alexander Skarsgard) and wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) are staying, partly to inject some life into their marriage and partly to inspire James in his quest to write a new novel, six years after his first effort came and went. In-between sampling the omelette bar and warily eyeing the locals, whose idea of entertainment involves both ham-fisted cultural appropriation (hence the Chinese restaurant) and macabre skin masks that look like rejects from Leatherface’s dresser drawer, the couple befriend Gabi (Mia Goth) and Alban (Jalil Lespert), a wealthy couple who are eager to explore the sites beyond the resort’s barbed-wire fences.
After a boozy excursion, the foursome’s freewheeling outing turns tragic, with James accidentally driving into and killing a local. Terrified of what the police might do to rich foreigners, everyone agrees to hide the body and pretend that nothing ever happened. This ruse falls apart rather quickly, and James and Em are arrested and charged with murder – which on Li Tolqa entails an automatic penalty of death. But there is a catch, entirely unique to this pseudo-fascist state: Pay enough cash to the authorities, and Li Tolqa will make an exact clone of you, which will be executed in your place. You just have to have the means – and the stomach to watch yourself, or a version of yourself, get sliced and diced.
In other, cleaner hands, Infinity Pool’s high-concept pitch might devolve into a ponderous and rather dry exercise. A movie in which everybody asks the other, “Are you really you?” But in the younger Cronenberg’s palms, the central identity-crisis conceit provides an opportunity to revel in an all-out primal nastiness. People are shot, stabbed, vivisected and treated like disposable playthings. This violence isn’t limited to acts of murder, either, with several sex scenes – including a drug-fuelled encounter that might hold the record for the longest onscreen orgy – treating the human body as a mutable thing, to be used and abused, worshipped and feared. This is unapologetic, assured filmmaking that has no qualms about sticking its face in the muck and staying there till everything turns black.
And it is in those moments of darkness where, at least briefly, Infinity Pool’s slight deficits come to light. Skarsgard, for starters, is miscast as the simpering and susceptible James. Perhaps it is just that I cannot shake his ripped warrior from 2022′s Viking epic The Northman out of my head more than half a year later – or the fact that even here the actor looks like he could crush any of his adversaries with a flex of his thighs – but it is difficult to square Skarsgard’s hulking, fashionably dressed frame with that of the milquetoast whom James is intended to be. And then there is the loose plotting that takes up the film’s final third – a series of round-and-round-we-go misadventures that feels like Cronenberg couldn’t resist one big swing too many.
But these are minor indigestions when stacked against Infinity Pool’s all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet of perversity. There are so many elements that seduce and beguile – including the rusted-out Brutalism of the Li Tolqan prison where the cloning procedure takes place, and Goth’s supremely unhinged work as James’s seductress, a performance more Looney Tunes than human – that the entire thing swallows you whole. There is no more delightful way to drown.