2023 | rated R | starring Alexander Skarsgard, Mia Goth, Cleopatra Coleman | written & directed by Brandon Cronenberg | 1h 57m |
While vacationing at an all-inclusive tropical resort, straight-laced couple James (Alexander Skarsgard) and Em (Cleopatra Coleman, Dopesick) fall in with the more open and adventurous couple Gabi (Mia Goth, having a hell of a horror movie run right now) and Alban (Jalil Lespert). A night of partying leads to an accidental death and James and Em at the mercy of the police in a foreign country. With the threat of the death penalty, James is given an opportunity – for the right amount of money a double of himself can be cloned and the clone executed. Watching himself being executed sets off a self destructive series of events as he gets further into Gabi’s gang of vacationing elites and his own hedonistic nihilism.
Brandon Cronenberg’s first film, Antiviral, was interesting. His second, Possessor, was a terrific 70s throwback sci fi thriller that hit my top 10 list of that year. His latest, Infinity Pool, shows a filmmaking that is still coming into his own, building up and honing his technique. Pool has all the visceral violence, body horror and hallucinogenic descent into madness of his previous films, but with a bit more of a skillfully crafted narrative anchoring it in reality (or the character’s reality). There are great performances here, thrilling visuals, cringe-inducing prosthetic mayhem and satirical and psychological ideas flowing through it. But more than anything, Infinity Pool takes us on a ride that skillfully unfolds each new story reveal and ends very differently than where it started.
Let’s start with the premise, because it’s a wild one. The film starts like an Eli Roth, Don’t Mess Around in a Foreign Country movie, and takes a sharp satirical turn. It’s entirely unclear what forcing someone to watch their own doppelganger being executed is supposed to do – make them feel they just missed this fate or just give the cops themselves a way to satisfy their bloodlust. What in the name of Tokyo Gore Police kind of legal system is this? Well, it does the opposite for James, Gabi, Alban and their group of elites. It gives them a free pass to do anything they want. There is a wide-shot scene where one of the members asks James if he ever wonders if the wrong clone was executed. It’s here where the movie pivots and hits the gas, playing with identity while mutating before our eyes into a lovechild of David Chronenberg and Luis Brunel, a sci fi Eat the Rich satire that remains more compelling than the Rich People Bad cartoonish stuff that we usually get (see the infantile Triangle of Sadness). These people aren’t bad or misguided or ignorant because they are rich. They are because they are given an excuse and actively encouraged to be.
Skarsgard (also on a hell of a run with The Northman, Documentary Now and Succession in the last year) plays it appropriately muted. Meek, then overwhelmed, then prodded to explosive anger. Mia Goth continues to blow minds, turning in a deliciously campy villainous performance here without breaking the film’s somber spell. Cronenberg excels at the visuals too. An rollercoaster shot spinning us upside down across the resort perfectly sets the tone and the film has it’s share of unflinching knife violence that pushes the expectations of an R rating. Chronenberg has made a decent-int0-madness movie that retains it’s character focus, a satire that doesn’t get too obvious and a deliciously violent peer pressure horror movie that manages to be cinematic and polished without sacrificing the visceral cringe of an indie film. At the end of it I felt like I went on a journey and that’s one of the highest compliments. One of the best movies of the year.