Sci-fi spectacles and neon-tinged orgies: elements that would bring a Cheshire grin to the face of body horror maestro David Cronenberg. Why then, do these elements feel so tired in “Infinity Pool,” the latest film by Cronenberg’s son, Brandon?
The movie follows author James (Alexander Skarsgård) and his wealthy wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) as the pair seek inspiration for James’ new book via an extravagant trip to a resort in the fictional country of Li Tolqa.
Their marriage is bitter, and it’s not helped by the appearance of Alban (Jalil Lespert) and Gabi (Mia Goth), both of whom appeal to James’ ego — and, in Gabi’s case, James’ libido — to convince him and Em to illegally venture outside the resort walls. All it takes is a few drinks, some questionable driving and one fatal pedestrian collision, and James finds himself in a Tolqan jail for manslaughter. The sentence? Death.
Fortunately, to protect the lives of wealthy international visitors and buttress Li Tolqa’s tourism industry, the Tolqan authorities have devised a way to ensure that visitors never have to suffer the consequences of their illicit actions. With the aid of some viscous red liquid and intricate strobe lighting, a perfect replica of James is constructed — a replica that, to satisfy the letter of the law, is brutally killed while the original James looks on.
While others might be repulsed by watching “themselves” die, James is titillated: the execution awakens a hedonistic fervor within him — a fervor that he pursues with increasing intensity alongside Gabi, Alban and other rich travelers who have paid their pound of flesh to escape punishment. James and his posse initially appear content to just fool around a bit. However, as time passes, James is sucked into a disorienting world of sex and hallucinogenic nightmares where the boundaries of self begin to blur.
It’s at this juncture that the wheels start to come off. Examining effective examples of body horror, like the elder Cronenberg’s “The Fly” (1986) or Brian Yuzna’s “Society” (1989), the unnatural and uncomfortable are ever-present — but they exist within a simple narrative structure with a defined goal. “The Fly” maps Seth Brundle’s Kafkaesque transformation into an inhuman monster, while “Society” harnesses supernatural paranoia to produce an etched-in-acid condemnation of the rich and powerful.
“Infinity Pool,” however, is all over the map, at times retreating up its own derriere in search of cohesion. For the latter half of the film, the younger Cronenberg seems determined to throw as much esoteric, needlessly graphic content at the viewer — including an uncomfortable number of breastfeeding scenes — hoping that some of it dribbles together into a recognizable form.
This is a shame, because “Infinity Pool” seems to have much to say about the blight of affluent tourism. James, Gabi, Alban and others consistently fail to see the bodies they exploit — service workers, indigenous people or their freshly minted replicas — as human, dismissing, killing or insulting them indiscriminately. It’s all done in the name of amusement, which, by virtue of their enormous fortunes, they relish without punishment. It’s a novel point, but it swiftly becomes lost in a muddled final act that doesn’t resemble a film so much as a disturbed daydream — overstylized and purposeless.
Granted, Cronenberg receives little help from his cast — particularly Skarsgård, whose dour, scowling performance can’t even be saved by his character’s natty, vacation-chic aesthetic. Combined with Goth’s screechingly manic Gabi, “Infinity Pool” finds itself without the kind of deus ex machina(ctors) that have rescued other subpar flicks in the past, such as James McAvoy in “Split” (2016).
Is the writing an issue? Probably. Yet one gets the sense that actors at the level of Skarsgård, who was excellent in “The Northman” (2022), and Goth, fresh off the highly-rated “Pearl” (2022) and “X” (2022), really ought to offset that fault. Perhaps Skarsgård and Goth should partake in the Tolqan cloning procedure — the resulting replicas might put on a better show than the originals.
Sometimes, it’s fun to pan a flawed movie, but I can’t help but feel bad for “Infinity Pool” and the collection of otherwise talented artists who created it. It could’ve and should’ve been so much more, and yet … it wasn’t. To borrow a line from Gabi, “more than anything else, it’s depressing.”
William McCall is a sophomore in the College of Arts & Sciences. Hoya Horror will appear online and in print every month.
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