Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Stars: Mia Goth, Alexander Skarsgård, Cleopatra Coleman
Even prior to the waves she’s made in the past year, Mia Goth was fairly synonymous with Fucked Up Shit Happening™. Chances are if she was involved, something off the hook was about to take place (see Nymphomaniac, High Life, the Suspiria remake). Her hits of late with Ti West have certainly pushed her profile to new heights. Here working with Cronenberg’s heir, she manages to wrangled a commanding co-lead performance while steadfast remaining in the wheelhouse of Fucked Up Shit Happening™.
Taking a leaf out of daddy’s book, Brandon Cronenberg has crafted a decidedly Ballardian third feature, here cleaving closer to the author’s later period (Cocaine Nights, Super-Cannes) with an examination of the dark halcyon malaise of the super-rich. We’ve had plenty of blunt genre attacks on the 1% of late (Triangle of Sadness, The Menu etc), but Cronenberg Jr.’s feels more psychologically unsparing; an incredibly dark descent into a lawless milieu, free from consequence and, by extension, morality.
James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård) is a one-time writer now coasting on the wealth of his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman). They’ve chosen to vacation on the made-up Eastern Mediterranean island of La Torqa, where James is sought out by super-fan Gaby Bauer (Mia Goth); herself a dallying actress who specialises in “failing naturally” for TV commercials. Running into trouble outside of the resort boundaries, James finds himself guilty of a hit and run, only to discover that the locals have a unique out available only to those wealthy enough to afford it; have yourself cloned and watch as the newly generated double is put to death.
Out of this sci-fi conceit, Cronenberg is able to manifest a cult-like microclimate of jet setters who not only consider themselves above the law, but who find perverse pleasure in watching their surrogates getting murdered, taking seats at their own executions like the leering punters at gladiatorial combat. James finds the experience just as compelling – tapping into a similar vein of morbid obsession itemised by Cronenberg Sr. in Ballard adaptation Crash – but he’s on shakier ground than his new compadres. As Em grows increasingly tired of her husband’s law-flouting antics, she packs off for home, leaving James dangerously exposed should he need the funds for further rescue. What’s more the collective he’s grown close to sense this fragility, and James finds himself increasingly victimised, set apart as a fraudulent or lesser entity in the group.
Even before Infinity Pool gets gooey (tears, vomit, blood, semen – if James has a bodily fluid, it will be expelled here), it feels like an attack on the vacuity of commercialisation, be that the advertising work that Gaby prides herself on or the boom of pre-packaged tourism for the privileged. Once the doubling process becomes part of the narrative, this indictment of western imperialism only furthers. We get the sense of a small-scale economy predicated on the excesses of these obnoxious tourists. A vicious cycle fed by and feeding on the bad behaviour of rich assholes.
Cronenberg continues to pursue a hazy, fluid presentation of memorable imagery, influenced by but not beholden to the work of his father. It’s apparent that he intends to carry on the torch, but increasingly feels emboldened to bringing his own sensibilities to the party. The gloopy manifestations that peppered the transition sequences in Possessor are expanded upon here for the ‘doubling’ procedure. Then, later, these same techniques are used to conjure an amorphously fluorescent sex scene; an orgiastic collage that takes us over – or under – the rainbow. He can feel edge-lordish; part of a wave of try-hard newcomers eager to write their own legacies as the new enfants terrible of cinema. But such puckish attempts can be self-fulfilling. I wouldn’t bet against Infinity Pool earning a cult legacy in years to come because of such overtures.
Thematically, Infinity Pool continues to pursue interests that emerged in Possessor. Cronenberg Jr. appears preoccupied with the transcendental, the out-of-body, notions of blurred or corrosive identity. James and the audience are explicitly asked to confront the possibility that his original self has been placed on the execution block and that he is merely the copy, the facsimile, the fake. This, ahem, doubles down on the imposter syndrome he carried with him to La Torqa. It externalises it.
At times Cronenberg’s evident – even gleeful – disdain of his characters does little to engender our own sympathies. We can feel icily removed from caring, even for poor James, who indulges in as much obnoxious behaviour as those he finds himself eager to impress. Yet he remains intrinsically separated from them. His spirals of self-hatred isolate him from Gaby and her group, who wear their ambivalence to responsibility like a coarse badge of honour. Playing multiple versions of James, Skarsgård is able to flex widely across his range, gamely rekindling the guttural roars of The Northman one minute, simpering like a submissive the next. He arguably out-weirds the totemic Goth, who adds another memorable weirdo to her eclectic (and electric) resumé.
One of the most perfunctory things you can say about a movie is that it isn’t for everyone. That’s true of all movies. Still, Infinity Pool is a freaky deaky, languid two hours. A defiantly weird investigation of the human death wish that suggests, once you’ve gone so far, you truly can’t go home again. That may be too far from some viewers’ comfort zone. For those of us energised by such intellectual exercises to the borders, Infinity Pool is an intoxicating, nightmarish thought experiment worthy of the Cronenberg name.