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Infinity Pool review: Alexander Skarsgård and Mia Goth go off the deep end

Brandon Cronenberg's brilliant, disturbing thriller is a violent takedown of wealth and privilege

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It’s a little perfect that Infinity Pool, written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg, makes its debut just as the topic of “nepo babies” (those given unfair professional advantage through family connections) is a feverishly trending topic. It’s not wholly unreasonable to question who gets the keys to our collective cultural ship, but in the case of David Cronenberg and his son, Brandon, it’s clear that not since Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach began penning piano tunes like his old man, Johann Sebastian, has there been a more exciting father-son dynasty in the arts.

For his third feature, Cronenberg the Younger doesn’t ape his father’s style so much as he expands upon it. With Infinity Pool, in comparison to Cronenberg the Elder’s good-but-not-great Crimes Of The Future, you could even say he’s perfecting it. In his previous films, Antiviral and Possessor, and more so with his latest, Brandon leans into whatever mysterious genetic mutation stirs his fascination with body horror, social paranoia, sexual deviance in a group setting, and the counter-intuitive allure of self-destruction. If you’ve watched David Cronenberg’s 1996 film Crash, probably the most extreme movie under his belt, then Brandon’s new one is for you.

Infinity Pool (named for elegantly designed swimming pools with a vanishing edge, often near an ocean, so from certain angles they give the illusion of going on forever) is set at a fancy-schmancy resort where emotionally distant married couple James (Alexander Skarsgård) and Em (Cleopatra Coleman) are vacationing. At first, this suggests the film will be a condemnation of the elite class and how they fail to realize how piddling their problems actually are, like Triangle Of Sadness. But Ruben Östlund’s Palme d’Or winner, one that’s literally awash in vomit and feces, is normal compared to what’s about to happen here.

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James is a frustrated author. He married into wealth. He can’t get it together for a follow-up book and is delighted when he meets a fan at the resort. Gabi (Mia Goth) invites him out to dinner with her husband, Alban (Jalil Lespert), which he accepts, annoying Em because it’s the same place he just said he didn’t want to go.

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At a cringey Chinese restaurant (not a lot of Chinese people among the waitstaff), they plan an excursion outside the fenced-in tourist section of whatever unnamed Instagram-ready paradise they’re in. The journey gets weird (and features a surprisingly frank and spirited sexual act in extreme close-up) and then bloody when James accidentally runs over an islander in their borrowed car. He wants to stay and find help, but the others know that the law in these parts is incredibly strict, so they flee.

The next day, James is interrogated and realizes that he must be executed for his crime. However, if he pays a fee, a “double” can be manufactured that can die in his place. Is this code for some luckless local who’ll dress in James’ clothing and face the penalty? No, it means a sentient human duplicate with an awareness of death will be created and then killed by the victim’s young son.

Infinity Pool Trailer #1 (2023)

This is strange, certainly, but we’re just getting started. Much of Infinity Pool’s strength comes from how it dives completely into unexpected and unnerving territory. It truly cannonballs into the deep end when James joins a group of veterans versed in the local style of crime and punishment. An agreeable dose of Philip K. Dick (or Dead Ringers) is added when we’re led to question just which version of which character we’re seeing. Of course, we’re all on a journey in this crazy vacation called life, but to see it laid out so metaphorically (and in beautiful settings and fashionable interiors) makes Infinity Pool a winner.

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The movie does not shy away from physical and emotional violence. There are a few moments where it may be necessary to shield your eyes from the gore on screen. But the unsettling aspects of the movie are what lingered. Everyone, even the most well-adjusted person, dances with self-destructive behavior. How else can we explain Wendy’s Baconator? This impulse has been well-explored in film and literature, but what Cronenberg has done here spins the centrifuge to such a degree that we’re left face-to-face with its most fundamental elements. And you may not like what you see.

(Infinity Pool will be released in theaters on January 27)