Love him or hate him, anticipate or avoid him, Brandon Cronenberg is just as much a demented artiste as his father. His newest film, Infinity Pool, is no different, asking: what is life and law if certain people are above other’s inevitabilities of death and consequences?
The film stars Alexander Skarsgård (The Northman, True Blood) as James, a struggling author dealing with writer’s block. The film opens with him using a vacation with his wealthy wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman, Fear Clinic) to try and find his “inspiration” again, in the made-up country of Li Tolqa. While the rich have their own personal compound full of luxuries most of us can only imagine, outside of that is a clearly struggling, likely post-war environment full of hostility and political structure alien to the protagonists. Soon James and his wife meet the Bauers, Gabi (Mia Goth, Pearl trilogy) and Alban (Jalil Lespert).
After seemingly clicking with them – especially the alluring young Gabi, a fan of his novel – James convinces Em to go on a day jaunt with the Bauers out past the compound. After a day full of drinking (don’t do this, kiddos) James starts to drive the gang back, only to hit and accidentally kill a native resident. Quickly being arrested the next morning, James learns about Li Tolqa’s unusual justice system.
Normally, Li Tolqa would allow the first-born son of the victim kill him in an act of retribution, but Detective Thresh (Thomas Krestchmann [The Pianist 2002], in a role equal part sardonic cop and mad scientist) proffers a newer system the country has. Instead of him being executed, James can pay a large fee to have a clone with his own memories produced and killed in his stead. However, he must attend the execution.
This is a breaking point for Em, and she wants to leave immediately. However, James’ passport is MIA, and he must stay until that is resolved. This reunites him with the Bauers, who reveal they are fellow “Zombies,”- wealthy who have bought their way out of mortality and punishment. What started as a tragedy turns into a demented series of games for James and the group, challenging his own perspectives on morality and mortality while pushing themselves to new thrills of adrenaline and hedonism. Drugs, orgies, and more spilled blood become an inevitability for this desensitized crowd.
During their escapades, I noticed something in particular. The execution masks the “Zombies” steal from Thresh are also a nod to their wearer’s character, perhaps in a modern-day homage to classic Twilight Zone episode, “The Masks.”
Not only was this fitting internally, but it debatably wraps a thematic trilogy in Cronenberg’s work. Antiviral analyzed celebrity and the cult of personality; Possessor the loss of identity across avatars, and Infinity Pool the meaning of identity when the familiar barriers of life and society are removed.
The two definitive strengths of the film are its leads in Mia Goth and Alexander Skarsgård ; and its cinematography by Karim Hussain (Read our interview here). Goth is equal parts classic femme fatale and a feral Harley Quinn as Gabi, starting as this sultry seductress, but gradually revealing her own true colors, and bizarre depths and appetites as the film goes on. Meanwhile, Skarsgård goes through his own performative character arc as Eric, first from a depressed yet levelheaded author to a full-fledged navigator of the subtle caste system of the “Zombies.” As mentioned earlier, even though he is essentially a side character, Thomas Krestchmann turns what should be a glorified, sterile cameo into a dryly funny performance.
Hussain’s cinematography is clearly well planned, even in the trippy (and even more disturbing and extended in the NC17 cut) hallucinogen scenes. His use of framing and texture makes what could be sterile depictions of the story sizzle and soak and steam in all the best and worst ways, aided by the tropical venue.
While there is a lot of room for interpretation and thematic discussion of the film, which may lead to some loving, some hating, and certainly some being utterly disgusted, I feel like Brandon Cronenberg is not only going three for three with his filmography, but also improving his directorial technique with every project. While for now I’m saying this is BC’s strongest film, personally; I’m hoping to be proven wrong with his next, and he only continues to grow. Check out Infinity Pool now, if you dare, and if you think you can stomach it, go for the unedited cut!