In “Infinity Pool,” what occurs in the poor nation of Li Tolqa stays in Li Tolqa, where wealthy Western guests can practically get away with murder. But that’s only half the story. Visitors engage in bizarre, drug-induced orgies wherein their genitalia appears to transform before their eyes.
The villagers also perform horrific ceremonies in which criminals are cloned and made to see their own executions. The horrific Li Tolqan skin masks suggest generations of inbreeding, or perhaps they are the faces of failed doubling attempts.
It would be extremely stunning if the picture was not directed by Brandon Cronenberg, the deranged son of “Scanners” filmmaker David Cronenberg. I’m sure he’s a great guy in real life, but if you’ve watched “Antiviral” or “Possessor,” you know that the pictures Kid Cronenberg creates may fester in your mind for years.
“Infinity Pool” is on-brand in numerous respects (transgressive pictures of erections bursting from vagina-like orifices, for example, or someone breastfeeding Alexander Skarsgard). However, Dark Brandon appears to have lost his mind this time, which is just where a subset of horror fans want him to be.
Consider “Infinity Pool” as an extreme horror, live-action adaptation of the Eagles’ “Hotel California”: a cautionary story of out-of-control Western decadence, set in and around a luxurious resort where carefree vacationers can check in whenever they like, but… you know the rest. Failed novelist James Foster (a courageous Skarsgrd, looking more like his father than ever) fits in well, a more chiseled variation of the figure Ralph Fiennes portrayed in last year’s similarly gloomy guilty conscience parody “The Forgiven.”
James wasn’t born wealthy, but he married into wealth, and his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) appears delighted to pay for excursions like these in the hope that it will help him overcome his writer’s block.
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There in their beachfront paradise, James and Em can pretend that their lives are perfect. But there are hints — red flags, actually, in the form of armed guards, barbed wire, and severe cautions not to leave the resort — that this place may be either Heaven or Hell.
Mia Goth (“Pearl”) plays Gabi, a trophy wife who has been going to Li Tolqa for years with her shady architect husband Alban (Jalil Lespert). James is recognized by Gabi, who raves about his novel (which no one else seems to have read). She invites him and Em to dinner, followed by an unlawful pleasure drive outside the property, during which she does much more than stroke his ego.
Cronenberg shocks with an extreme close-up of the money shot (how this film received an R rating is a mystery), which positions audiences for some of the perverse imagery to come — as if we weren’t already on guard after the unsettling series of spiraling expository shots that play over the film’s opening minutes or editor James Vandewater’s jagged sense of cutting. Alban, too intoxicated to drive back, hands the wheel to James, who kills a farmer crossing the road in the middle of the night.
Cronenberg photographs shattered bones, crushed skulls, and crimson pools of blood with the gusto of a gourmet food photographer. He adopts a more indirect approach to guilt, which is what “Infinity Pool” is truly about, or at least one of the central elements of this acerbic critique.
At Gabi’s urging, the police are not called. The film plays on Western worries about so-called “shithole countries,” areas where tourists have been told that desperate locals could rape, murder, or kidnap them; yet, in this case, the majority of the violence is perpetrated by the tourists.
(The resort and coasts were filmed in Croatia; other areas were filmed in Hungary; nevertheless, the use of illegible signage and non-white extras suggests a less Westernized environment.) James begins to panic when he and Em are imprisoned the following morning, as the crooked authorities are far more terrifying than the vaguely menacing citizens he sees on the roadways.
As police chief Thresh (Thomas Kretschmann) describes the punishment for manslaughter, the story takes a sci-fi turn: According to the law, the victim’s eldest child “shall kill you to protect the family’s honor.”
Fortunately, there is a loophole. The Li Tolqans have discovered a process that allows lawbreakers to have themselves duplicated, memories and all, for a premium price.
The individual may then have their double punished in their place. Who would refuse such a deal? From Cronenberg’s perspective, it is an intriguing psychological idea. Some individuals have fantasies of attending their own funerals. Here, you can instead see your own execution.
How can you determine which version of yourself was killed, if the double is, in fact, a copy of you? Does it really even matter? Over the course of three pictures, Cronenberg and DP Karim Hussain have formed a distinctive visual language, which varies from slick-to-the-point-of-sinister ambient photography to phantasmagoric hallucinations of the sort Henri-George Clouzot experimented with in “Inferno.”
During the cloning procedure, “Infinity Pool” immerses us in a montage of bizarro body parts, the majority of which are probably prosthetic, but they flash past too swiftly to discern. All of that skin is clearly sexy, yet also unsettling.
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James emerges from the experience, which includes not just the cloning but also the trauma of witnessing his own disembowelment, an altered man. Em is appalled and insists on leaving La Tolqa immediately, whilst Gabi is ecstatic. Now she has a new companion, whom she brings to an exclusive group of other guests who have already experienced it.
From this point on, “Infinity Pool” loses its sense of rationality, descending into a sort of nightmare state that is exacerbated by a psychoactive local drug. James delights in the exhilarating feeling of being above the law. Or is he merely attempting to avoid his conscience?
What follows is an almost nonsensical stew of insane and darkly comic power games, as Goth’s Gabi transforms into a cackling old woman intent on humiliating James. His downward slide is riveting to observe, but more difficult to comprehend (the subtle fast cuts do not help). By the time we see Skarsgrd ferociously wrestling a naked version of himself to the ground, the film has long since lost all coherence.
The Canadian director has created a film that bends and breaks and folds back on itself in unimaginable ways, akin to an M.C. Escher sketch. As mind-boggling as everything is, we can hardly tear our eyes away.
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What Is the Infinity Pool About?
James and Em Foster, an affluent couple, vacation at an isolated island resort in this film. James, an author seeking inspiration for his second book, stumbled upon a couple at the resort who are avid readers of his previous book. They offer James and Em an excursion beyond the resort for the day, which he accepts, but Em is hesitant.
James is awoken by officers banging on his door with an arrest order following a fatal accident. He is informed that crimes committed there carry the death penalty, which he can only avoid by paying “a substantial quantity of money.” James agrees to pay for surgery that will create a clone of his body that is biologically identical. The clone will substitute for him during his execution.
When and Where Was Filming for Infinity Pool?
Despite being set on the imaginary island of La Tolqa, the majority of the filming took place at the real Amadria Park resort in Sibenik, Croatia. The remainder of the film was shot in Hungary. Production lasted five weeks beginning in September 2021 and concluding the following October in Canada for post-production.