In Infinity Pool’s opening frames, the camera flips upside down to prepare its audience for a disorienting experience. Brandon Cronenberg delivers just that. His latest is The White Lotus dialed up to eleven on the violence scale. A kaleidoscopic, suspenseful, and sick satire that blends the thriller, horror, and sci-fi genres to its will to craft a story fueled by the wealthy’s hedonism.
James (Alexander Skarsgård) doesn’t know what he’s doing at his current tropical resort locale. He’s a novelist with writer’s block hoping to find inspiration, but he begins to question everything around him. What’s real? What isn’t? Questions the audience will pose soon, too. He and his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman ) are surrounded by staff wearing masks resembling human skin that make them look disfigured. The island is approaching its rainy season, and before the storm comes, there’s a celebration called “The Summoning.” This celebration and its introductory traditions are slightly touched on, something to provide the audience with the feeling that this resort may have a sinister underbelly. It’s a weakness in the story to not have explored it more, but James will be summoned to do many things he couldn’t have expected and the masks take on a different role.
Enter Gabi (Mia Goth) and her husband Alban (Jalil Lespert) who invite themselves into James and Em’s vacation itinerary. However, as the get-to-know-yous are spilled over Asian cuisine, you notice an immediate attraction between Gabi and James. In one scene, drowning in neon lighting – aesthetically pleasing psychedelic imagery is featured throughout the film – they dance together. Skarsgård’s face carries both lust and an animalistic quality, looking at Goth’s Gabi as though he wants to devour her. But that works the other way around too. As Gabi calls the island outside the resort brutal and uncivilized and compares the people to animals, it’s her and the other resort guests who fit that description. That revelation comes after an accident that has the film going completely off the rails, making a dark tonal shift that sees James being swept up in a criminal game of thievery and revenge.
The film’s characters, during their twisted “Bling Ring,” dawn the aforementioned masks themselves to emphasize the true ugliness of wealth and power. In the most dangerous game of hedonism, fueled more so here by pain than pleasure, we see some challenging performances from the film’s leads, especially Goth and Skarsgård. The year of Goth going completely unhinged continues, but she’s also seductive and mischievous. A scene where she screams James’s name repeatedly is squirm-inducing. Skarsgård on the other hand delivers a performance that feels like nothing we’ve ever seen. It’s quite haunting at times, especially in one heartbreaking moment that sees him begging for mercy. His cries pierce straight through you. Cronenberg’s writing of his characters is especially fascinating in the way they can act so deranged one minute and completely normal the next.
That signature Cronenberg body horror is abound but it’s less about making us squirm than emphasizing his themes. Still very rooted in science fiction – that’s difficult to discuss without getting into too much detail – it explores the phenomena of cloning in a more violent way to ask the question: If you witnessed your own death, what would you fear? Challenging morality and mortality allow the film’s characters to separate their mind from their bodies and go completely insane in a wildly entertaining way.
The film’s resort versus the poor conditions that surround it speak volumes to a kind of crafted world that the rich so desperately cling to. Infinity Pool may lose its audience from time to time in all of its weirdness, but the biting satires that are “rich people doing weird shit and going completely nuts” have proven to be some of the most satisfying watches, as the cracks in their world reveal something truly revolting.