I’ve always found that to compare a famous artist to their famous parent is something that’s not only inherently unfair, but surely is a recipe for disapointment – however, there is a distinct feeling that with Infinity Pool, Brandon Cronenberg seems to be trying to out-Cronenberg his old man when it comes to the WTF stakes.
If there is a comparison to be made, it’s that Brandon has seemingly skipped the overt, venereal, horror flick beginnings of his dear old dad and gone straight for the incendiary, offence-producing section of his career, with his movies giving off a harsh, Crash sort of vibe that challenges our sensibilities just as much as it challenges the steel of our stomachs.
Thus we now get Infinity Pool, a cold, uncomfortable fable about the class divide that leaves all sorts of human bodily fluids pooling in its wake in its quest to make us squirm.
Struggling novelist James Foster and his wife Em are spending time at a luxury resort in the fictional country of Li Tolqa, a somewhat poor part of the world which heavily resents the reliance it has on the rich folk who supply their tourist trade with desperately need revenue. James and Em’s relationship is getting strained by his inability to follow up his first novel, but matters are made even shakier when the couple meet up with actress Gabi and her husband Alban under the pretext that the former is a huge fan of his book. Persuaded to take an ill-advised jaunt away from the safety of the resort’s gates, the two couple’s day out takes a hideous turn when a drunk James mows down a local farmer while driving them home.
In any country, this would be bad, but this is La Tolqa and their penalty for causing any mind of death – even accidently – is to be executed by the victim’s family. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel when James finds out that La Tolqa has something of a unique loophole; if you can pay, the authorities can create a clone of you that has all your thoughts and memories that will be put to death in your place. James agrees, but after witnessing the surreal execution take place (it’s not everyday you get to watch from across the room as a thirteen year-old boy stab you to death), he finds he’s been irrevocably changed by the act.
Introduced to Gabi’s inner circle of rich, privileged friends, he finds that they’ve all gone through the same experience due to La Tolqa’s super-strict laws and all believe they’ve been freed by it to be able to do whatever the hell they want, be it bully other members of the resort to staging a full on, murderous home invasion. As time goes on, James finds his morals melting away as Gabi puts him through yet more dehumanising experiences, but do they really want a mediocre novelist to be one of them, or is this all part of a larger, even more debauched game.
Anyone familiar with Brandon Cronenberg previous movie, Possessor, will have a pretty good idea what lurks within the darker places of Infinity Pool, but even then, I was still surprised by how far Cronenberg was willing to go to drive his themes about the diminished morals of those wealthy enough to consider themselves above everyone else. Make no mistake, the movie does not play nice, creating an unsettling air of violence bubbling under the surface of so-called civilised people. Cronenberg states his intentions to make you uncomfortable as he can with an early scene that sees James receiving a sudden handjob from Gabi that actually shows his semen splattering on the pebbles below, hinting on the perverted, hedonistic journey the author is about to embark on.
For those unfamiliar with the filmmaker’s style of plotting, it’s probably best not to concentrate too hard on the logistics of the plot as the concept of a notoriously poor country cracking cloning instantly contradicts itself, but Cronenberg is far more interested in the journey than the vehicle he’s using to get there and uses this mixture of Sci-Fi, Horror and Psychological Thriller to create some fantasy tech much in the same vein as the mind-swap device in Possessor or even the surgery equipment in his father’s recent return in sci-fi: Crimes Of The Future.
However, once you put slight plot inconsistencies aside and focus on the nightmarish path our lead is about to take, you get a movie that’s memorable for all sorts of reasons.
Some might argue that the path he takes may be a little busy with Cronenberg loading his film with multiple metaphors and themes that mesh and blend such topics as the dehumanization of the poor, the control luxury resorts flex over local communities as it destroys its culture (at one point Gabi and her cronies wear tribal masks when embarking on their consequence-free thrill-killing) and the literal destruction of oneself by addiction, despite it’s sometimes scattershot focus, its grounded by its two stars who seem to be game for fucking anything the script demands.
Alexander Skarsgård, who’s recently played both a gargantuan Viking warrior in The Northman and the worlds most unconvincing, swole, science nerd in Godzilla Vs. Kong, delivers an utterly fearless performance that sees him flit between cowering victim to thuggish brute and back again, while the incomparable Mia Goth – with X and Pearl under her belt making her a seasoned hand at provocative horror at the grand old age of 29 – delivers yet another privileged psycho-brat to remember.
Those who can’t stand movies that don’t deliver tidy endings that wrap everything up in a neat bow will most likely abhor Infinity Pool, but if you can weather the cracking skulls, orgies, phantasmagoric dream sequences and the general sordid pulse that beats within its twisted heart will make you glad that Brandon is continuing on that old Cronenberg tradition of making movies about people getting their jollies from things they really, really shouldn’t.
Forging ahead with a career of his own, Brandon Cronenberg has delivered yet another challenging experience that exposes you to the dark soul that potentially lurks within us all. If you enjoy swimming in such frenzied waters, Infinity Pool is worth a dip – just stay out of the deep end.