Brandon Cronenberg is nothing if not creative. The young filmmaker tells stories and depicts acts that few are even bothering to attempt. His work keeps you a bit at arm’s length, but considering what his films are depicting, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Cronenberg’s latest movie, Infinity Pool, is in some ways both his most perverse as well as his most mainstream, if that’s even possible. Playing at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, the flick is still not for everyone, especially if you have a sensitive stomach.
Infinity Pool is pretty out there, though the perception that this is one of the more extreme films in recent memory is a bit misguided. There’s graphic content, both sexually and violently, but it’s not presented as shock value, but merely the new normal for our characters. Outside of one shot of an ejaculating penis early on, there isn’t a ton that we haven’t seen. It’s more the premise that’s on the singular side.
Struggling writer James (Alexander Skarsgård) and his wealthy wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) are vacationing at an exclusive resort on the fictional island of La Tolqa, hoping that inspiration for a new novel strikes. Noticed by a fan in commercial actress Gabi (Mia Goth), she invites the couple out to dinner, and then out beyond the compound walls. A fun and sexually charged day at the beach ends in tragedy, which in turn reveals a secret of this island. La Tolqa not only has an eye for an eye justice system, but a loophole for the super rich that engage in tourism there. For a fee, you can have a replica of yourself made and take the fall. Em has James do it and she’s horrified by the result, but something inside James turns on in a big way.
Intoxicated by this newfound feeling, James begins gallivanting around with Gabi and her husband Alban (Jalil Lespert), who have joined up with others who have gone through this process. While initially all in, James notices boundaries he’s not willing to cross that others are, which puts him at odds with Gabi. When all consequences are lost, how does one resolve conflict?
Alexander Skarsgård and Mia Goth are excellent here. The former is asked to stretch in a new way, showing numerous layers to this unhappy man, while the latter gets to let go in a way that she does as good as anyone else. Watching both of them in Infinity Pool is a hedonistic and demented pleasure. Supporting players beside Cleopatra Coleman and Jalil Lespert include Thomas Kretschmann, but Goth and Skarsgård are the draws.
Filmmaker Brandon Cronenberg shares a peculiar taste with his father, auteur David Cronenberg, but he’s got a trippier sensibility, less overtly concerned with body horror. Still, unusual horror is a family business, with Infinity Pool another successful example. I do wish Cronenberg’s script had a bit more layers to it, as the visuals and direction are quite arresting. The writing just is a tiny bit thinner than you’d hope for.
Infinity Pool cements the younger Cronenberg as being only for those of a certain bandwidth and taste, but if you vibe with him, he’s got a vision that few filmmakers possess. Here at Sundance, right before it opens in theaters, it’s a picture that’s hard to forgot. The uncut festival version is out there, but nothing too absurd to make it well worth checking out for genre fans.