Mia Goth has proven herself to be one of the most savage yet scrupulous actors in the business, embodying an array of inimitable characters in recent years that have made us wonder if they’re demented or simply depraved, while marveling at the dynamism she brings to the screen either way. Alexander Skarsgård has come a long way from his portrayal of the sexy vampire that made us all want to be fangbangers on True Blood, taking on roles that continue to embody evil infused with enigmatic nuances and mordant magnetism. In Brandon Cronenberg’s Infinity Pool (Neon) these powerhouse acting forces fornicate, fend off and feed off each other’s worst tendencies, ultimately fighting to the death (several deaths, in fact). With these three involved, it’s as extreme and weird as you’d expect.
The filmmaker is of course, the son of David Cronenberg, the king of “body horror,” known for exploring the often unhealthy connection between our psychological and physical dysfunction in classics like The Fly and Crash. Brandon may never live up to his dad’s prolific, dark and daring body of work, but with films like Antiviral (2012) and Possessor (2020), and now Infinity Pool, he seems game to give it a go. He’s forging his own path visually, anyway. His trio of films strive for more than basic blood, sex and shock carnage. There’s some truly trippy eye candy (or hallucinatory eye poison depending on your threshold) to be devoured in his latest, and beyond the leads’ audacious acting abilities, the arty sequences are the best parts of a movie that’s seemingly intent on being loathsome– meaning most will either love it or hate it.
Skarsgård plays James Foster, a failed author on vacation with his heiress wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) at a beautiful if somewhat creepy resort in Li Tolqa, a fictional far away land (filmed in Croatia). Just outside the confines of the bounteous buffets and blue ocean views, the region’s crime and crooked cops make for dangerous surroundings. As most of us have probably been told on getaways in Mexico or locales with poverty or political unrest, guests must stay within the gates of their privileged paradise or risk unknown dangers (think Amy Schumer in Snatched). Enter the gregarious Gabi (Goth) and her hubby Alban (Jalil Lespert), who befriend the couple and break the rules, taking the pair on a jaunt to a secluded beach for a day of lounging, drinking and a little sexual assault. Em gives James an aggressive, uninvited handjob as darkness hits and his ejaculation is explicit and icky, but it’s only the beginning of Cronenberg’s cannoncade of liquidy close-ups not for the meek.
James drives them back to the resort, and commits hit and run, killing a local. When the authorities apprehend him, the sadistic sci-fi nightmare kicks in. Punishment for most crimes here is execution, but for the right price, felons can step into the infinity pool- a pond of red goo that’ll create a doppelganger to die instead. Killed in brutal ceremonial fashion, the perpetrator must essentially watch his own “death.” Soon enough, James finds himself part of a wealthy and wanton “zombie” club led by Gabi and Alban. With no consequences for their actions, the group turns to nihilistic violence on multiple occasions for fun, knowing that they can pay their way out by being clone-killed.
Some have compared the film’s subtext to that of HBO’s White Lotus, a show that’s filled with unlikable characters (both seasons) and first world problems– unfulfilled professional ambitions, family pressures and relationship woes. It’s a valid parallel, but Pool takes a more metaphorical approach and a more menacing one. It also lacks Lotus’s character development which is needed to really suck us in and make us ponder the identity crises in question. These people are heartless deplorables and the protagonist might be the worst of all. If you hated Skarsgård as the abuser husband in HBO’s Big Little Lies, you’ll find him simply pathetic here. He’s an emasculated, self-pitying hunk of blah, a “baby” as Em taunts near the film’s end, foreshadowing what many critics are deeming Pool’s most shocking NC-17 scene: Goth nurses Skarsgård with her bare, blood soaked breast as things come to head. It’s not clear how much you’ll see of it (or the beach rub-out, or the kaleidoscopic orgies) as the film has reportedly been cut for the R-rated theater version. You really don’t need to, but fans of horror-kink and boundary-pushing cinema will probably want to.
In the end, this is Goth’s movie as much as it Cronenberg’s, and it’s well-timed as she’s been trending on Twitter just this week, her turn in Ti West’s Pearl (part of his X trilogy) the subject of accolades and Oscar snub rants. Like Pearl, she’s an unhinged psychopath, though here she’s as vexing as she is vapid. And you can’t take your eyes off her. Despite an unsatisfying “what happens on holiday stays on holiday” epilogue, Infinity Pool is a masterful piece of satirical terror with startling neo-psychedelia sequences you won’t forget. Ironically, it suggests that Cronenberg is not his father’s filmmaking clone, even if he enjoys plunging himself into the same gloomy/gooey/grotesque waters.
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