James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård) and his wealthy wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman, TV's 'The Last Man on Earth,' 'Dopesick') are enjoying an all inclusive La Tolqa island vacation, the author hoping to find inspiration. The Eastern European resort announces the beginning of a local festival with a band of native musicians wearing eerie ‘skin’ masks. It is also surrounded by barbed wire and a gate where guards warn guests not to leave the premises. But when little known novelist James finds a fan in Gabi Bauer (Mia Goth), he’s tempted off site and plunged into a nightmare in “Infinity Pool.”
Laura's Review: B-
Writer/director Brandon Cronenberg’s ("Antiviral," "Possessor") third film is both more extreme in content than its predecessors and less intellectually provocative. It begins very much like 2022’s “The Forgiven,” Skarsgård’s Foster, like Fiennes’ character, hitting a poor local on a road outside a wealthy enclave and facing unusual measures by local police, but while Fiennes’ arc was redemptive, Skarsgård cannot find a way out of the depravity he initially partakes in, one that begins with the police’s sci-fi method of filling their coffers while observing local custom. (Note that the version being released theatrically has been trimmed slightly from the unrated version shown at Sundance, most notably of a shot of Foster’s erect (prosthetic) penis.)
Gabi, coming on from the get-go, invites James and his wife to join her and her husband Alban (Jalil Lespert, "Tell No One") for dinner at the Chinese restaurant in town, the same one James just nixed as inauthentic when Em suggested it earlier. Over dinner, the couple, who are yearly resort regulars, convince James and Em to join them on an excursion the next day. With a rented vintage convertible the four set off along twisty roads, spending the day on a secluded rocky beach. Things only get strange when James steps aside to pee, Gabi slipping up behind him to deliver a hand job. James takes the wheel for the return trip when Albans claims to be drunk. With everyone else in the car asleep, the headlights begin to flicker off and, while momentarily driving blind, a man slams into the car’s windshield. Gabi immediately takes charge insisting on leaving the scene and not calling police. The next morning, James answers a knock at his room door to find four men in uniform waiting to take him away.
After securing a promise that he will lie about who rented them the car, Detective Thresh (Thomas Kretschmann, "The Pianist"), having protected his uncle, informs James that local custom decrees that the eldest child of anyone killed has the right to execute the perpetrator. But because the island is tourist friendly, those with enough cash can pay to have a clone made, one who will share memories and be aware of guilt. Stripped naked, an insert placed inside his lips to keep his mouth gaping open, James is led into a pool of red ooze and subjected to a strobing experience which appears to feature Gabi nude and go-go dancing. Awakening in a dismal recovery chamber, an anxious Em by his side, the couple is informed that it is mandatory that they now watch the execution, a vicious stabbing carried out by a young boy. James is given his clone’s ashes in an urn on the way out as a ‘souvenir.’
What Cronenberg fils is up to here is an obvious satire of wealth inequality where rich tourists can essentially do anything they want and have a clone – or are they now the clone? – pay the price. Gabi and Albans are veterans of this group which includes two other couples who call themselves ‘zombies’ and get their kicks out of violence, murder, hallucinogenically-fueled orgies (drugs one of many crimes punishable by death on La Tolqa) and watching their own executions. They also delight in hazing newcomers and James was no accident, but a target, Gabi doling out such humiliations as reading a savage review of the one and only novel she’d pretended to love, or ordering James to ‘sacrifice the dog,’ which is himself on all fours.
The infinity pool of the title is a double entendre, Albans, a Swiss architect, having purportedly designed one at a resort ‘up the road’ whose developer the group terrorizes as well as the cloning bath where these folk regenerate themselves ad infinitum. When carousing, they usually don those creepy native ‘skin’ masks, which look like faces that have begun to shrivel, their pallor gray, suggesting overly cloned beings. Creepy surreptitious smiles are the order of the day, sported by Thresh, James’ initial executioner and James himself.
Skarsgård is all in here, lured by flattery, terrified initially then turning wanton and animalistic before trying to save himself. And at this point, after her turns in “X” and especially “Pearl,” Mia Goth is now officially freaking me out, the actress all too convincing giving herself over to wild displays of anti-social depravity.
“Possessor” cinematographer Karim Hussein adds to the nightmarish tone with disorienting camera angles and Tim Hecker’s score suggests impending doom, but the resort location in Croatia comes up short suggesting the type of wealth we’re to believe these characters enjoy.
“Infinity Pool” is a nasty swim in evil, noxious waters but one wishes it were deeper.
Neon releases "Infinity Pool" in theaters on 1/27/23.