Brandon Cronenberg has made the bold, but perhaps also foolish choice, to follow his father into the science fiction/horror genre. There’s always a risk in following someone who has done it before, but especially so when that someone is your father, who’s an undisputed master in the genre.
To the younger Cronenberg’s credit, he’s clearly interested in exploring different ideas. Infinity Pool is less interested in the human body as a site of transformation and more interested in how people act when there are no consequences and how the body is perhaps the least important aspect of human identity. But unlike the films of his father, and other, better, science fiction films overall, Infinity Pool becomes less interesting after its sci-fi premise is introduced.
The film’s first third introduces the audience to author James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård) and his wealthy wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) who are vacationing at a luxurious resort in the fictional low-income island nation of La Tolqua. James has been struggling to write something since the release of his first novel six years ago, so he and Em are on vacation seeking inspiration for him. When they meet the free spirited couple Gabi (Mia Goth) and Alban (Jalil Lespert) and are invited to spend time with them because Gabi loved James’s book, their vacation becomes much more exciting.
Extreme close ups of eyes and mouths communicate that Gabi is sexually interested in James and the alternately droning and propulsive score from Tim Hecker clues the audience in that things are not going to go well for these characters. But it’s not clear what will go wrong, or even where the narrative will take us, for the first half hour or so of the film. There’s an uncertainty here that’s unnerving and thrilling as the dread builds over scenes that feel more like something from The White Lotus than any vacation set horror movie.
Things kick into gear when Gabi and Alban, who have been to La Tolqua many times before, lead James and Em outside the bounds of their resort and, unsurprisingly, disaster strikes. Or does it? Things seem to have gone horribly wrong, but the more knowledgeable couple assure their new friends that everything will be alright. Enter the film’s sci-fi premise, something that I won’t give away here. The premise isn’t entirely original or unique, but is absolutely still fecund ground for psychological and narrative investigation.
That revelation should draw the audience in and see the film push into a narrative that will drive the rest of the runtime. But instead, Infinity Pool opts for a meandering structure that in theory offers Cronenberg the opportunity to explore his ideas and themes without cornering himself too much with plot, yet in execution robs the film of its momentum. The thrilling question of “what will happen next?” in the first third becomes a much more disappointing “who cares what happens next?”
Cronenberg attempts to keep things visually interesting with frequent nudity, bloody violence, and several frenetically edited and gorgeously lit scenes of drug trips and dream sequences. But even these striking images become tiresome. The nudity isn’t warranted and feels like a filmmaker making a poor attempt at keeping things edgy. The dream and drugs scenes are undeniably beautiful, but also highlight that the rest of the film, despite its crisp cinematography and beautiful leads, isn’t that visually interesting. Unlike something like Mandy or the works of Nicolas Winding Refn and Zack Snyder, these flights of fancy aren’t built into the foundation of the film so their presence feels not only out of place, but also unearned and frankly like an experimental film school short stuck in a narrative feature.
Infinity Pool is a disappointment precisely because it’s so promising. The cast is up for anything and everything, Skarsgård in particular shows a willingness to commit to the script’s most ridiculous moments, and Goth, coming off a strong showing in 2022, steals the show in nearly every scene she’s in. The world Cronenberg creates here allows for some fascinating explorations into decades (if not centuries) old staples of science fiction. The film’s opening third is full of psychosexual tension and a narrative openness that’s equally exciting and unsettling. However, Infinity Pool squanders all of these gifts to offer something that feels incomplete, or at the very least like several disparate projects forced into one that fails to cohere.
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