Film Review: “Infinity Pool” — Body Double
By Nicole Veneto
There’s still room for Brandon Cronenberg to grow as a horror director, but Infinity Pool should make his father proud. It’s a sensory nightmare of bodily dissociation and high-class decadence that signals a promising start to 2023.
Infinity Pool, directed by Brandon Cronenberg. Screening at the Somerville Theatre and other New England cinemas.
I can only imagine what sort of disgusting and depraved things are discussed over the family dinner table at the Cronenberg household, and it’s a shame that I’ll never be a fly on the wall overhearing any of it.
Without giving more than a passing mention to the current debate over Hollywood nepotism, I can assure readers that Brandon Cronenberg — scion of the King of Body Horror himself — isn’t just piggybacking a career on his father David’s legacy. Just like his dear old dad, Brandon possesses an intense fixation on bodies as grotesque and overlapping sites of societal and technological change, culminating in the sort of sickening spectacles of metamorphoses the family name has become synonymous with. Furthermore, Cronenberg Jr. has shown enormous growth as a filmmaker in the eight-year interim between his sterile debut Antiviral in 2012 and the heady Possessor in 2020, carving out a familiar but nonetheless distinct niche for himself in the current horror landscape. Cronenberg’s third feature, Infinity Pool, arrives hot off of Sundance to save the unwashed masses from the seasonal deluge of 30 Rock joke movies playing in theaters. (I’m still not convinced 80 for Brady is in fact a real film or made by real people, no matter how many screening invites are sent my way.)
James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård, handsome as ever) and his wealthy wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) are vacationing in a luxurious and heavily guarded resort in the fictional seaside nation of Li Tolqa, whose people live in near poverty under an autocratic government. A writer reliant on his wife’s inheritance to get by, James hopes their getaway will give him some much needed ideas for his long overdue second novel. Near the end of their stay, the Fosters meet fellow guests Gabi (Mia Goth in yet another iconic role) and her husband Alban (Jalil Lespert), who invite them on a forbidden sojourn beyond the resort’s armored gates. Enticed by Gabi’s professed love for his seldom read first book, James tags along in hopes that inspiration will strike. (It never does, but Gabi does give him an unexpected handjob before we reach the 20-minute mark.)
Their trip through the countryside takes a tragic turn when James hits and kills a local man on a drunken joyride back to the compound. Gabi advises James to flee the scene without calling the authorities, citing the country’s corruption and disdain for careless foreigners. Nonetheless, James is arrested the following day and found guilty of murder without a trial. Under Li Tolqa’s law, murder is punishable by death at the hands of the victim’s first born son. But foreigners like James are offered a very special alternative: for a sizable price, the convicted can clone themselves and have their double executed in their place. In other words, tourists with deep pockets get a free pass to speed run the island like a game of Grand Theft Auto, notwithstanding the gradual degenerative effects cloning has on the subject.
Cinematic satires on the self-indulgent narcissism of the rich are by no means novel, and Infinity Pool isn’t saying anything particularly new or profound on the subject. Numerous comparisons can be made to Triangle of Sadness and The White Lotus for their treatment of bourgeoisie decorum. But neither can boast Skarsgård being walked around on a dog leash or a hallucinogenic orgy shepherded by Mia Goth. Speaking of which, I already sang my praises for Goth when I covered Pearl, but it bears repeating that she’s a chaotic force of nature and arguably Infinity Pool’s main attraction. As with Pearl, the climax of Infinity Pool is an acting showcase for Goth; she sprawls out on the hood of a moving car — pistol in one hand and a bottle of booze in the other — viciously taunting James like your worst middle school bully. It’s a timely retort to the Academy’s all too predictable snubbing of Pearl (and any horror films for that matter, Nope included) this year. On the other hand, Goth’s ebullient mania doesn’t need awards validation to be recognized as great when it’s so self-evident in every scene.
Praise aside, I do have a massive bone to pick with Neon and the MPA for withholding Infinity Pool’s NC-17 cut from the masses. While the fortunate audiences at Sundance had the opportunity to enjoy an unadulterated cut of pure Cronenbergian chaos, the rest of us must make due with the R-rated cut being released in theaters. (For now at least, assuming Neon is holding onto the uncut version for a home video/VoD release like it did Possessor). According to Skarsgård, anything Cronenberg cut to secure an R rating was swapped out with similar discretionary shots to preserve the run time (the difference being only five seconds). What did make it into the final theatrical cut is quite explicit, but a scroll through social media hints at even greater perversities the old fogies at the MPA deemed too hot for paying adult audiences, including a six-foot tall prosthetic penis and a porn actress’s vagina.
At this point you have to wonder what purpose the NC-17 serves in 2023 considering that prime time television and prestige premium cable TV now feature levels of sex and violence that rival what’s on the big screen. The market assumption — that an NC-17 rating will hurt a movie’s potential box office revenue –is an outdated relic of the prestreaming past by now. The polarizing adaptation of Joyce Carol Oates’s Blonde didn’t stand in the way of Ana de Armas securing a Best Actress nomination, and unrated horror slashers like Terrifier 2 have enjoyed lucrative limited theatrical runs across the country. It’s especially frustrating given Neon’s reputation for producing and distributing relatively boundary-pushing films like Assassination Nation, Pleasure, Titane, and Papa Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future.
Though there’s still room for him to grow as a horror director, Brandon nonetheless does his father proud with Infinity Pool. It’s a sensory nightmare of bodily dissociation and high-class decadence that signals a promising start to 2023.
Nicole Veneto graduated from Brandeis University with an MA in Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, concentrating on feminist media studies. Her writing has been featured in MAI Feminism & Visual Culture, Film Matters Magazine, and Boston University’s Hoochie Reader. She’s the co-host of the new podcast Marvelous! Or, the Death of Cinema. You can follow her on Letterboxd and Twitter @kuntsuragi as well as on Substack.