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Alexander Skarsgard in Cronenberg Freakout – The Hollywood Reporter


I won’t be the first or last person to observe that Infinity Pool is pretty much The White Lotus with thick dollops of gore, hallucinatory visions, orgiastic sleaze, queasy cloning and state-sanctioned psychosis. If that sounds like your thing, dive right in. Though the family imprimatur is still very much in evidence, writer-director Brandon Cronenberg steps out from the shadow of his father more than usual with a sci-fi satire in which wanton violence, depravity and zero accountability are perks of the wealthy. Bound to be a gleefully warped thrill ride for some and an unpleasant ordeal for others, it’s not for the squeamish.

Cronenberg’s new film is less formally inventive and icy than Possessor, more narratively straightforward if no less disturbingly weird and grisly. But the go-for-broke extremity lacks the substance to make it more than an aggressive but shallow provocation. So many movies have needled one-percent privilege in recent years that sheer shock value — of which there’s plenty here — doesn’t quite cut it without a fresh perspective.

Infinity Pool

The Bottom Line

Unsettling in the moment, but quickly forgotten.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival (Midnight)
Release date: Friday, Jan. 27
Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Mia Goth, Cleopatra Coleman, Jalil Lespert, Amanda Brugel, John Ralston, Jeffrey Ricketts, Caroline Boulton, Thomas Krestchmann
Director-screenwriter: Brandon Cronenberg

Rated R,
1 hour 58 minutes

There are slight parallels with the 2020 Brazilian Western Bacurau in the lust for blood-sports of amoral First World tourists. But that epic slab of bleeding pulp was enjoyably subversive, turning the tables with an underclass rebellion. Cynically allowing the rich barbarians to keep doing what they do just feels unadventurous at this point.

What Infinity Pool does have going for it, however, is another ferociously committed performance from Alexander Skarsgård to follow The Northman and yet more lip-smacking villainy and sexual mayhem from Mia Goth, playing another horror hellcat on top of last year’s Ti West double-bill, X and Pearl. Those stars, along with the Cronenberg faithful, should help Neon entice genre fans hungry for a perverse freakout, exploding with macabre images.

Skarsgård plays author James Foster, whose first book was neither a big seller nor a critical success; he’s been struggling to generate a follow-up in the six years since. Luckily, he married money, with publishing connections to boot.

James and his younger wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) have come to a luxury beach resort on the fictional island of Li Tolqa in the hope that he’ll climb out of his spiritual funk and find inspiration. But signs quickly indicate this will be no breezy getaway, as DP Karim Hussain warps the image in a 360-degree rotation while they’re heading to breakfast and indigenous locals on motorcycles tear up the sand to scare the well-heeled vacationers.

Another resort guest, commercial actress Gabi Bauer (Goth), sidles up to James on the beach and starts chatting, confessing that she recognized him and is a big fan of his novel. Highly susceptible to flattery, James starts spending time with Gabi and her Swiss architect husband Alban (Jalil Lespert), even though Em seems less keen. The insidious camera angles, the menacing slo-mo and woozy music during a night out in town suggest the Bauers are not good folks. But we knew that as soon as Mia Goth showed up.

While the resort management stresses that going beyond the barbed-wire compound perimeter is dangerous, the Bauers are persuasive the next day when they insist that James and Em join them for a picnic at a remote swimming spot. Alban makes unsavory jokes over the barbecue lunch, but everything seems relatively normal. That’s until James slips away to pee and Gabi appears out of nowhere to provide hand relief, which Cronenberg shows in graphic detail, right down to the (presumably) prosthetic erection and money shot on the pebbles.

James is jittery and silent for the rest of the day, and while he’s behind the wheel of the Bauers’ borrowed sportscar heading back to the resort, he hits and kills a local, which the next day lands both the Fosters in jail. What happens afterwards is haute Cronenberg mindfuckery, so now’s the time to stop reading if you’re averse to spoilers.

The sinister detective in charge, Thresh (Thomas Krestchmann), informs James that a serious crime like a hit and run under local law comes with a severe penalty — execution by a child of the deceased. But the Li Tolqa officials have a special deal for moneyed foreign tourists convicted of crimes. For a hefty price, they have the technology to make perfect clones of them, complete with their memories.

Cronenberg makes the cloning process the first of many mind-bending interludes, with a team of terse women in lab coats poking and prodding James for measurements before he’s locked in a glass chamber full of red goop and a strobe does a number on his head while the surrogate is being baked.

Only once the clone is ready are James and Em informed that their presence is required to witness the execution. Non-negotiable. Forced to watch while her husband’s double is viciously stabbed to death by a 9-year-old boy, Em is traumatized. But James watches the entire ugly spectacle like a robot, the faintest trace of a smile crossing his face when it’s over.

That violent killing is the first of many once James discovers he’s now part of an exclusive club, along with the Bauers and other posh creeps, all of them experienced in surrogate executions. “We’re all zombies here,” one of them laughs, teasingly planting the suggestion that perhaps the real James was killed, not the fake.

This secret society reunites every year in La Tolqa, goading one another to commit more and more gruesome violence while wearing the locals’ grotesque ceremonial flesh masks, safe in the knowledge that they can pay up when they’re arrested and watch the juicy spectacle of their clones being slaughtered. The executions are part of the fun. It doesn’t take much to lure empty shell James into the sicko games, with help from a hallucinogenic local root drug and some sexual encouragement, first from Gabi then the whole gang.

All this provides Cronenberg with a canvas to explore some very on-brand body horror, to get his actors wet and sticky with body fluids and viscera, and to stage trippy out-of-body experiences with bizarre visions of genital mutations amid the flickering psychedelia, accompanied by Tim Hecker’s malevolent synth score.

James is steadily seduced to the dark side, encouraged to throw off his inhibitions and show the local “animals” his dominance. But initiation into the club proves not so simple. When he resists and tries to slip away, the diabolically amusing Gabi leads the charge to pull him back into line. The film’s title clues us in to his fate.

Watching endless executions of himself on a loop or beating a hooded figure to a gristly pulp before discovering it’s his double turns out to be not James’ idea of fun after all. But as the movie lurches deeper and deeper into repetitive torture-porn mode, it might not be yours either.

The idea of the decadent rich getting their kicks by brutalizing the indigenous people of a poor country and getting away with it might be archly satirical. But in Cronenberg’s script — which is stronger on nightmarish visuals than engrossing plot detail — it’s also a bit facile.

There are moments of wicked humor, like Gabi reading aloud a scathing review of James’ novel, which seems almost more agonizing for him than all the rest of the carnage. But unless you get off on watching a version of Alexander Skarsgård naked and led around on all fours by a dog collar (OK, who doesn’t?), or pummeling his doppelganger to mincemeat, or sucking on the blood-smeared breast of Gabi like some sort of unholy Pietà, it all starts to become laughable, the shock giving way to numbness.

That’s not to say Skarsgård isn’t riveting as he goes from abject terror to desperation to cold, arrogant ruthlessness and back again. Or that Goth doesn’t add another memorable sexy monster to her gallery of dangerously unhinged women. But none of that masks the fact that Cronenberg sells himself as a purveyor of challenging intellectual horror, and Infinity Pool is psychologically thin gruel. It’s immersive and unsettling if you go with it, but silly if you give it much thought.

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