SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2023 REVIEW! The apple really doesn’t fall far from the tree. Director Brandon Cronenberg continues to follow his prolific father’s footsteps with the disturbing, grisly parable Infinity Pool. Whether he’s satirizing the upper class or making a statement about the loss of identity in today’s austere society, or both, or neither, I’ll let the viewer decide. Despite the increasingly muddled narrative, the filmmaker’s grasp of garish/gorgeous visuals remains distinct, his detached approach as effective as ever. This is cerebral horror, not for the faint of heart. You’ve been warned.
Struggling writer James (Alexander Skarsgård) and his sugar mama Em (Cleopatra Coleman) arrive at a resort in a fictional country, boasting its own traditions, folk songs, and creepy masks. “Where are we?” James wonders over breakfast. “It was your idea, remember?” a tense Em replies. “Feeling inspired yet?” Inspiration soon arrives in the form of Gabi (Mia Goth) and Al (Jalil Lespert).
Gabi, a commercial actress specializing in “failing naturally,” is a huge fan of James’ otherwise little-read book. A chemistry develops between the two. The quartet ventures outside the resort grounds into the dangerous country against strict rules. This leads to a murder/hit-and-run, with James behind the wheel. It doesn’t take long for detective Thresh (Thomas Kretschmann) to track down James and Em.
Here’s where Infinity Pool swerves into the uncanny valley, a nightmarish place straight out of Cronenberg’s deranged, beautiful mind. In this country, tradition dictates that such a crime must be punished with death, with the son of the deceased publicly executing the perpetrator. However, due to an agreement between governments, the criminals may now choose to be cloned and then watch their double – who retains all the memories of the original, including the crime – get stabbed repeatedly by, say, a nine-year-old child.
“…criminals may now choose to be cloned and then watch their double…get stabbed repeatedly…”
It won’t take many guesses for anyone watching to predict which option James picks. He’s stripped naked, forced into a slime-filled chamber, and subjected to a phantasmagorical light show. When he awakes, he meets his clone, just to witness his brutal end moments later, along with a horrified Em. Something about the experience changes James. Unlike Em, who’s ready to leave, a morbid sense of curiosity, perhaps, tempts him to stay at the resort.
Gabi apparently went through the same thing with Al and refers to it as “the discovery.” “You said you were looking for inspiration,” she reminds James seductively. There are other “changed ones” whom James meets at Gabi and Al’s villa. Questions arise. Are they the clones swapped with the originals prior to the execution? If so, does it matter?
This marks just the beginning of a crazed set of events. If the plot of Infinity Pool sounds a bit convoluted and overstuffed, it’s because it is. Unlike Cronenberg’s spare, clinical Antiviral, where an entire futuristic world was conveyed via empty white spaces splattered with crimson blood, the layers of plot, the motifs, and the degree of lunacy on display becomes a little tiresome here. Thank god for the game cast, especially Mia Goth, who is fast becoming the Queen of Horror.
That said, this is still a Brandon Cronenberg film, so expect uncompromising mounting dread, close-ups of ejaculating penises, gutting, morphed flesh, orgies, and potentially seizure-inducing hallucinatory sequences. Karim Hussain’s camera rotates and plunges and distorts. Early shots of paradise are seen twisted upside down, with Tim Hecker’s ominous electronic score piercing and droning. Call it the anti-resort film of the decade.
“You’re so frozen these days, I can’t even tell if you’re asleep or if you’re awake,” Em tells James early on in Infinity Pool. The subsequent experience certainly snaps him… awake? Asleep? Wait, is this all a dream? In his inevitable next feature, Cronenberg could use more, dare I say, logic and warmth, to counterbalance all the madness and viscera. Otherwise, gorehounds and cineastes: dive right into this viscous pool.
Infinity Pool screened at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
"…cerebral horror, not for the faint of heart."