'Infinity Pool': A Surreal, Nightmarish Vacation Thriller
For much of its first act, Infinity Pool, the latest film from filmmaker Brandon Cronenberg, seems to fall in line with the recent trend of media that satirizes the upper class. I couldn't help but specifically think of The White Lotus and Triangle of Sadness in these early moments, but it isn't long before the film begins to take a sharp turn. As the film progresses, we are taken on a dizzying adventure that includes violent crimes, hedonism, and clones, told through a surrealistic lens. Cronenberg certainly takes after his father, the legendary David Cronenberg, when it comes to crafting shocking, yet captivating imagery, as it is hard to look away from the film at any given point. However, this buries the larger themes that the film is reckoning with, and makes for a confounding, strangely alluring experience.
The film largely takes place at a luxurious resort on the fictional island of La Tolqa, where novelist James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård) and his wife, Em (Cleopatra Coleman) are enjoying their vacation. A young, mysterious woman named Gabi (Mia Goth) introduces herself to James, saying that she is a fan of his work, and invites him and Em on an outing with her husband, Alban (Jalil Lespert). It is during this trip that a horrible accident occurs, and James soon finds himself on a harrowing odyssey that will change his life forever.
I can say with absolute confidence that Brandon Cronenberg has a great eye for film, but I wouldn't consider him that strong of a writer. This is my only major issue with his previous film, Possessor, as it is visually impressive, but doesn't live up to its full potential in terms of its script. Infinity Pool has this exact same problem, as the look of the film is phenomenal, but the ideas that Cronenberg is trying to present feel often feel underdeveloped. This is a shame, because Cronenberg has some great ideas that he tries to explore, but it feels like he doesn't fully know how to execute them. He comes awfully close to accomplishing what he is going for, but there are quite a few ideas that he explores that feel a bit half-baked. This is most apparent in the third act, where the film arrives at a revelation that feels out of place, and the nice satirical edge the film has had up to that point suddenly feels dull. It kind of plays into the what the film is touching on with the egocentric aspects of its main character, but it weakens the impact of the overall film. It's so strange, because Cronenberg is so focused as a director, but certain parts of his writing feel scrambled. He certainly comes close to having his ideas come together, but he definitely could improve on his writing.
Thankfully, Cronenberg's distinct vision keeps this film from being an utter mess, as his sure handedness as a director, along with the incredible visual elements of the film redeems much of the issues I have with its narrative. The use of color, the detailed set design, the sleek camerawork, all of it is so arresting, and it makes it so difficult to look away from the depravity we're seeing on-screen. Much like his father, Brandon Cronenberg doesn't shy away from including graphic imagery in his work, and even though this film was edited to avoid an NC-17 rating, it still gets away with quite a bit. The camerawork contrasts with the harsh actions we see, and the use of psychedelic colors and surreal imagery does make the film a bit easier to swallow. Cronenberg knows how to push the envelope and shock the audience, but he is smart about how far he needs to go, and manages to make these specific aspects not feel overly gratuitous. He has a gift for crafting such stunning visuals, and it is perhaps his biggest strength as a filmmaker.
Beyond this, the film is also elevated by Mia Goth's excellent performance. Goth had a great 2022 with both X and Pearl, and she is starting 2023 with a bang with her work here. This film gives her the opportunity to play a more mysterious role, and to play with the power dynamics she has with the other characters. There is a little femme fatale in the way she plays the character, which makes her all the more magnetic. Goth consistently has a great screen presence in anything she's in, but she feels so seamless here, and captured my attention from the moment she first shows up here. The way the camera focuses on her only amplifies this, and she is just so fantastic throughout the film. The film builds on her character in such a fascinating way, and Goth absolutely nails it from start to finish.
Alexander Skarsgård might not be giving his most exciting performance here, but it continues his string of taking on interesting roles and projects. He never boxes himself in, and allows himself to play unique roles. I really appreciate this about him, and it is interesting to see him play a character like the one he plays here. He is a bit muted, which is likely by design, but it does make it difficult to connect with him on any level. Once the film starts getting into the wild, surreal stuff, he does come alive a little, but it does feel like he is a bit too controlled for much of it. I like his performance just fine, but he definitely gets a little overshadowed here.
The dark, shocking nature of Infinity Pool is sure to polarize audiences, but what truly surprised me is how split I was on it. It's the type of film that I really needed to chew on for a bit, as there are several things I like about it, but several things that didn't work for me that well. As I've processed it a little more, I certainly think the good outweighs the bad for me, and that at the very least, this film is incredibly fascinating. It's not everyday that we get a film as original and daring as Infinity Pool, so I think the fact this film exists is worth celebrating. It's definitely polarizing, but I must commend Brandon Cronenberg for truly going for it with this film. I think I appreciate this film more than I actually like it, but it has definitely been stuck in my mind since I watched it. I might grow to like it more with time, but regardless, this is such a bold, fascinating film that, despite its flaws, is bound to be one of the most intriguing films of the year. It is quite engrossing and fun, and while the script does hold it back a little, it still leaves quite an impression.