There’s something to be said of a film being divisive. Whenever I hear about a movie splitting audiences down the middle, it makes me all the more interested to see it. While most films tend to aim at being pleasant and not trying to offend or disturb people, when a film provokes a reaction, I get the desire to watch it. Most audiences would expect simple entertainment, but the reality is rougher and more abrasive. Sometimes I’m thrilled with the results, like with last year’s Babylon, and other times I’m left deflated and annoyed, like with this year’s Skinamarink. Infinity Pool is no exception, as plenty of people in my audience very vocally hated it.
As I was leaving the theater, I heard a couple next to me laugh that next time the wife is going to choose the movie. A group of friends said as I was leaving that it was two hours of softcore porn. Two people who I assumed were dating called it the weirdest movie they had ever seen while I was walking to my car. All of that lines up with exactly what you would expect from a Cronenberg movie, albeit from his son. Their films are depraved, fetishistic, and definitely strange, and this film is no exception. Infinity Pool may be a bit out there for most audiences, but the individual components of the film are well executed. It’s just that they don’t perfectly come together and run out of steam before we reach the end.
Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Release Date: January 27, 2022 (Limited)
In the foreign nation of La Tolqa, James (Alexander Skarsgard) and his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) are on vacation so that James can find some kind of inspiration for his next novel. The couple eventually meets the Bauers, another married couple consisting of Gabi (Mia Goth) and Alban (Jalil Lespart). After the four leave their private resort for a leisurely drive, James accidentally kills a pedestrian and is quickly arrested by the La Tolqan police, who plan to execute him as per the customs of their culture. However, for foreigners who are wealthy enough, instead of executing them, the La Tolqans will clone them and have the clone murdered in their place. James agrees to this and watches his own clone die. Afterward, he learns from Gabi that she and several other vacationers have witnessed their own selves die and feel liberated by it, viewing the country as a consequence-free paradise where they can be as brutal and as vicious as they want with no repercussions and encourage James to join them on their violent wishes.
Infinity Pool makes it clear from that point onward that the film is a satire of the ultra-wealthy. The film paints the Bauers and their friends as depraved psychopaths who are willing to desecrate other cultures and people beneath them for their own amusement. Throughout the film, you’re hoping that these elites receive some kind of karmic comeuppance, but the film never delivers that or wants to even attempt it. The rich will always find a way to pay their way out of whatever problems they find themselves in, then go back to their normal lives as if nothing happened. While Cronenberg obviously did not create Infinity Pool with this in mind, the film really does come across at times as a darker and more violent White Lotus.
The commentary is pretty straightforward, but it’s conveyed in a way that is entertaining and visually interesting to watch. The film bombards you with psychedelic imagery from the outset, with kaleidoscopic flashes of color and bizarre images just to show how removed from reality this seems. The cinematography, especially in the beginning, hooks you immediately, showing the resort our characters are staying at as this warped destination that never quite seems right.
I have to admit, the more that I watched the film, the more I couldn’t stop thinking about Alexander Skarsgard’s performance. It’s a solid performance that grew on me, with James giving in to the depravity and Gabi’s unsettling advances. His insecurities are palpable and you can see how desperate he wants to belong. You really get the sensation that James loathes himself and sees himself as a failure and weak, using the opportunities La Tolqa presents as a way to, as Gabi puts it, “become a man.” It’s funny because after watching this performance, I would say that Alexander Skarsgard would be a perfect fit for the upcoming film adaptation of Silent Hill 2 since he seems to fit right home playing a guy named James who has problems with women and a serious inferiority complex.
Yet while Skarsgard delivers a fine performance, Mia Goth steals the show as Gabi. After seeing her dominate in Pearl, I am fully ready to declare that Mia Goth is one of the most underappreciated actresses of her generation. She chews the scenery with glee and flips between being a manic ball of malice to a nurturing and sensitive caregiver to James. You want to hate her and see her character die, but if she was to die then the soul of the movie would be gone alongside her.
While these individual elements all work well on their own, they never really come together as they should. The film often tends to be a bit self-indulgent with its bizarre sequences and once you understand what the film is trying to convey, it doesn’t really change its message or attempt to develop or recontextualize it. There’s a bit towards the middle where one of Gabi’s associates contemplates when he was first cloned and sentenced to death if the clone was executed or the original was. The characters all brush off this possibility, but James gives it some thought and you could see his mind fixate on the idea that he may not be the original James. The film then never goes back to it and instead goes all in on the satire, leaving a potentially juicy idea on the floor.
The movie goes on for about two hours and by the time you reach the two-thirds mark, you feel like you’ve seen everything it has to offer. There’s a somewhat interesting revelation to kick off the third act, but it didn’t really need to be there and just serves to pad the film out and reiterate the points that it already made. Yes, the rich suck and don’t value normal rules and norms. They’ll abuse the system and get off with only a meager slap on the wrist. It’s not exactly a unique message despite how well Cronenberg makes it look and how depressed it’ll make you feel by the time you reach the film’s final frame.
But the parts of Infinity Pool that work do work really well. The cast is great and Mia Goth steals the show. The psychedelic imagery and cinematography are stylish and heighten the surrealism of the world. It’s just a shame that the film doesn’t know when to stop and doesn’t realize that it’s running on fumes by the time it reaches the credits. It’s definitely a polarizing film and one that I did enjoy by the end of it, but I can easily see why those audience members found it a chore and strange to sit through.