Content warning: This article discusses graphic violence and mentions sexual acts
Two rules for travel:
- When in Rome, do as the Romans do.
- What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.
Infinity Pool, the new horror film directed by Brandon Cronenberg, takes these two well-known axioms and puts them in a blender. The resulting smoothie is a bloody, disorienting film that reaches levels of debauchery that other eat-the-rich media like The White Lotus can only dream of.
The travelogue stars Alexander Skarsgård as James, a down-on-his-luck writer vacationing in the fictional country of Latoka. James, accompanied by his wealthy wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman), meets Gabi (Mia Goth) and her husband Alban (Jalil Lespert) at an exclusive resort. The two couples become fast friends, with the latter pair inviting James and Em on a coastal excursion. On the way back, their rented convertible’s headlights fail and James fatally strikes a local.
The police come for James the next morning. The punishment is execution.
James is brutally disemboweled by the victim’s eldest son – to be more precise, a James is brutally disemboweled by the victim’s eldest son.
Enter “doubling,” a bizarre technology available only in Latoka that allows clones to stand in for foreigners who break the country’s stringent laws in exchange for exorbitant sums paid by the perpetrators. The “real” James is spared, allowing him to join Gabi on a series of increasingly feverish episodes that inevitably culminate in sex and violence.
Infinity Pool is intensely disturbing, featuring striking camerawork and unsettling visuals. Latoka’s rural, vaguely authoritarian landscape clashes with the carefully manicured hotels the cast retreat to when their nightly depravity is over. Cronenberg ensures viewers never get to see the whole picture – a strip of beach, a burnt-out car, a colorful disco – tantalizing them with bits of a degenerate playground. Even the body horror the celebrated (and reviled) Cronenberg name demands is remarkably tame – we get horrific glimpses of flesh perverted and distorted – but these moments are sparse. When we do see it, though, oh my God the nipples. Don’t watch this one with your parents.
Mia Goth delivers a stand-out performance as Gabi, effortlessly slipping into the skins of the entitled tourist and violent maniac. She strings the helpless James along like a puppet, enticing him into more and more depraved pleasures. The audience is made an accessory to her deviance, making them feel vaguely corrupted as they watch the sordid plot unfold, guided by the mesmerizing Goth. Skarsgård just stumbles along, which fitting for his pathetic wimp of a character but a bit subdued. We see flashes of insanity and degeneration, but it's not over the top.
The film is surprisingly funny as well: It has the creepy sort of humor that makes that one weird guy at the back of the theater laugh out loud while everyone else sort of just winces. Ultimately I feel like Infinity Pool is a solid take on the eat-the-rich format that’s all the rage, but the focus on the satire dilutes an intriguing concept with the “doubling” and its unsettling implications. Going into the film, I thought I’d be getting a horror flick about identity and cloning gone wrong, but the film treats the horrifying “what if I’m not the original me” problem as a total non-issue, launching straight into the depraved freedoms the cloning technology allows.
I also wish the film had done more with its apparent post-colonial background: The abundance of classic convertibles, French-colonial architecture and industrial infrastructure audiences see glimpses of in the film point to Latoka as a country not unlike Vietnam or Cuba, exploited by foreign powers politically in one century and economically in the next. Unfortunately, these intriguing elements are put a backseat to the eat-the-rich main plot. Ultimately I’d argue that Infinity Pool is at the extreme end of the continuum works like Parasite, The White Lotus and Triangle of Sadness create, unafraid to show the blood, guts and nipples the others dance around.
What a trip.
Thumbnail image credit Neon Films