Sundance 2023 Review: INFINITY POOL, Brutal, Bloody, Effective Satire

Lead Critic; San Francisco, California
Sundance 2023 Review: INFINITY POOL, Brutal, Bloody, Effective Satire

Watching your own execution can change you, sometimes irrevocably.

Being forced to watch said execution after paying for the one-time creation of a body double (clone) to serve as your surrogate can cause a debilitating existential crisis with apparently no way out or back. That core idea, at least, serves as the premise — and more importantly — the narrative fulcrum for writer-director/provocateur Brandon Cronenberg’s (Possessor, Antiviral) third film, Infinity Pool, an utterly unique, blood-, -semen, and gore-streaked critique of late-stage capitalism, inequality, and entitlement.

The high-end secluded, exclusive resort at the center of Infinity Pool serves as a microcosm for the wider world at large. Located in a cordoned-off area of an impoverished country, Li Tolqa, the unnamed resort caters exclusively to wealthy Western elites, offering every comfort and luxury, but with one proviso: Local law prohibits foreigners from leaving the confines of the resort for several, interlocking reasons (e.g., crime, poverty, etc.).

That doesn’t stop James William Foster (Alexander Skarsgård, The Northman), a struggling writer with one published novel to his name and a publishing heiress, Em (Cleopatra Coleman), as a wife to fund his lavish lifestyle, from allowing themselves to be seduced by another wealthy couple, Gabi (Mia Goth, Pearl, X) and Alban (Jalil Lespert), into joining them on an “innocent” trip to a forbidden beach.

Everything, as expected, goes sideways for James when, echoing a similar scene in last year’s underseen The Forgiven, the drive back to the resort leads to the death of a local. Learning of the country’s harsh, inflexible penalties (a life for a life), the two couples flee back to the resort.

The law, however, still extends to the resort and James finds himself in a precarious predicament: Face certain death as part of an honor-restoring revenge killing (his) or, with just a visit to a nearby ATM, substituting a clone or duplicate to die for him. As his captors warn, the surrogate will not only resemble James in all of his particulars, the duplicate will also retain his memories and presumably the guilt associated with his crime.

Not surprisingly, self-preservation easily wins out over any moral qualms James might have, but as part of the state-sanctioned execution of his double, James and Em must watch from a theatrical distance. The experience understandably rattles James, causing another fissure in his already fragile relationship with Em.

Partly by choice, partly by a damning passivity, James becomes part of Gabi and Alban’s circle of hedonists. Whatever moral or ethical qualms they might have had when they discovered the island-nation’s secret disappeared long ago. For them, it’s just another opportunity to all but erase the boundaries of the permissible.

Gabi functions as James’s entry into that world. She also doubles as an untrustworthy guide, a solipsistic temptress, and an agent of chaos in James’s life. With X and Pearl last year, Goth has emerged as the newest “scream queen,” though ascribing that label to Goth obfuscates more than it reveals.

Goth’s unfettered, unrestrained approach to her more recent roles reveals a performer attuned to the needs of an often-dismissed genre, and she certainly does not disappoint here, giving a full-throated, all-in performance as the amoral, sensory-driven Gabi that’s difficult to shake long after the end credits roll on Infinity Pool. While Skarsgård’s James, by narrative purpose, remains something of a cypher — and a passive one at that — Skarsgård equals Goth in his unreserved dedication to the demands of Cronenberg’s screenplay.  

Cronenberg introduces an intriguing, tantalizing idea early on: What if James isn’t James but his double? How would he know? How would anyone know? It’s not a question, however, with an answer, at least not an answer Cronenberg cares or wants to to answer.

Instead, Cronenberg takes James — and by extension, the audience willing to set aside any doubts or their own squeamishness — through different levels of experiential terror, each one more depraved, debased, or debauched than the last. As the encounters become increasing distorted and hallucinogenic, bodies morph into other bodies, unfamiliar appendages grow out of familiar orifices, and Cronenberg, indulging practically every transgressive that crosses his mind, proves himself more than equal to the family name.

Infinity Pool premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. It opens theatrically in North America on Friday, January 27, via Neon Rated. Visit the official site for locations and showtimes.

Infinity Pool

  • Brandon Cronenberg
  • Brandon Cronenberg
  • Alexander Skarsgård
  • Mia Goth
  • Cleopatra Coleman
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Alexander SkarsgårdBrandon CronenbergCleopatra ColemanInfinity PoolJalil LespertMia GothThomas KretschmannHorrorMysterySci-Fi

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