Infinity Pool (Canada/Hungary, 2023)

January 27, 2023
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Infinity Pool Poster

It’s apparent that writer/director Brandon Cronenberg has a fascination with what constitutes identity. That question, posed existentially without the involvement of religion or spirituality, lies at the core of both Cronenberg’s dark, trippy 2020 thriller, Possessor, and his latest production, Infinity Pool. Subtextual similarities abound – Cronenberg, like his father David, has a unique style that has been called “tech noir.” Infinity Pool asks questions it can’t answer. And, although the narrative takes some strange twists and turns, it may be the most accessible of the director’s three feature-length movies (2012’s Antiviral being the other one). For those who pay attention, everything comes together, although not necessarily in a pleasing, cathartic fashion.

The Menu, Triangle of Sadness, and HBO’s White Lotus have all been mentioned in association with Infinity Pool. The relationship is straightforward: all of those productions focus on the attitudes, arrogance, obliviousness, and peccadilloes of the ultra-rich. To an extent, that applies to Infinity Pool, but only as a jumping-off point. (I would posit that the little-seen 2021 Ralph Fiennes/Jessica Chastain movie, The Forgiven, is a closer match.) Although there’s little doubt that Cronenberg is expressing disdain for people whose wealth has eroded their morality (they are referred to as “zombies”), that’s one aspect of a larger canvas. The director eventually gets around to asking the age-old question of what constitutes consciousness. When is a person a person? Is there more to individuality than a collection of memories in a body?

An unsuccessful author, James Foster (Alexander Skarsgard), and his wealthy wife, Em (Cleopatra Coleman), have arrived at an exclusive resort to rest and recharge. The cracks in their relationship are evident from the start and become more obvious when a vivacious young fan, Gabi (Mia Goth), latches onto James. The next day, the three of them, plus Gabi’s husband, Alban (Jalil Lespert), rent a car from a local and head out into the forbidden lands beyond the resort’s boundaries. After a day of play, which includes an intimate interlude between James and Gabi, an accident occurs on the way home. With James behind the wheel, the car strikes and kills a pedestrian.

The next day, the police arrive to arrest James. The penalty for killing someone, even accidentally, is execution. But for the wealthy, there’s a way out. For a price, James can commission the creation of a cloned doppelganger – a physically identical replica that, once infused with his memories, is a perfect copy – that can be executed in his stead. As he watches his procedure unfold, James comes to the uncomfortable realization that the clone isn’t merely an emotionless avatar but an aware being who can feel fear, despair, and pain. The incident allows James admission into a secret society: resort guests who have undergone the same experience and feel empowered by it. Em reacts by booking an immediate flight home. James, however, elects to remain behind to explore the depravity embraced by Gabi and the others.

Even if one is to assume that the survivor of the execution is the “original” James and that the double takes his place (one character suggests it could be the other way around and that the clone survives), it questions the moral implications of creating a sentient whose sole purpose is dying. Science fiction is replete with examples of this sort, including clones who exist to be organ doners and those who are created as a repository for the consciousness of another. There’s a lot to unpack here, which is one reason why the movie doesn’t immediately vanish from the viewer’s thoughts the moment the end credits roll.

2022 was a momentous year for Mia Goth and Alexander Skarsgard with both having signature performances – Goth in X and Pearl; Skarsgard in The Northman. Their roles in Infinity Pool provide them with opportunities to show their strengths. Both are adventurous actors, willing to push through conventional boundaries to fulfill a director’s vision no matter how batshit crazy it might seem. Neither is put off by nudity, fearful of appearing without makeup, or worried about closeups.

Cronenberg’s aesthetic is unique. Although the setting is intended as a playground for the rich and entitled, the colors are muted. Once James enters into the secret society (with the help of an inhaled smoky substance), things become psychedelic – a bad trip into an orgy that goes on a little too long. Twisted masks hide features while naked bodies cavort. Could it have been tightened up a bit? Perhaps but neither of the Cronenbergs are known for restraint. And, yes, I’ll admit to thinking of Kubrick a few times along the way. (A Clockwork Orange and Eyes Wide Shut in particular.) Like Possessor, Infinity Pool is challenging and eclectic but it’s not one of those pretentious movies that’s weird for weirdness’ sake. The film piques the intellect and feeds the bloodlust while offering an experience that only a Cronenberg can deliver.

Infinity Pool (Canada/Hungary, 2023)

Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Mia Goth, Cleopatra Coleman, Jalil Lespert, Thomas Kretschmann
Home Release Date: 2023-04-11
Screenplay: Brandon Cronenberg
Cinematography: Karim Hussain
Music: James Vandewater
U.S. Distributor: NEON
Run Time: 1:57
U.S. Home Release Date: 2023-04-11
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Gore, Profanity, Sexual Content, Nudity, Drugs)
Genre: Thriller/Horror
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1