In Infinity Pool, Li Tolqa is heaven on earth for the rich and the spoiled.
For a hefty price, foreign visitors to an opulent island resort in this impoverished nation can lounge on the beach, dance the night away under strobe lights, and indulge in every vice under the sun. They can even get away with murder – provided, of course, they can afford the ultimate no-jail card.
You see, Li Tolqa has a zero tolerance policy towards crime and a rather distorted sense of justice as all types of crime carry the death penalty. Thanks to the local tourism initiative, tourists who find themselves on the wrong side of the law have two choices: face execution, or pay to have identical look-alikes created of themselves and killed in their place.
The third feature film from Brandon Cronenberg, whose previous films Antiviral and Possessor delivered non-contact body horror with a viciously satirical twist, Infinity Pool makes no secret of its poison to the rich and privileged, but The White Lotus is Not . More inspired by the later works of JG Ballard with their brutal collisions of Eros and Thanatos, the film fully deserves the NC-17 rating it was screened with at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and immerses audiences in intense, acidic drama washed-up montages of violent murders, mind-bending orgies, and drug-fuelled mayhem.
At the center of the chaos is resort guest James (Alexander Skarsgärd), who is introduced alongside his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) as he slowly awakens in one of the hotel’s lavish suites; She immediately alerts us to the craziness to come by asking James if he said to her in his sleep, “You can’t feed on white sand brain dead.”
Alexander Skarsgård plays James in Infinity Pool.Neon.
He’s not sure if he said that, but it’s the sort of evocative, half-illogical reflection one might expect to come from the mouth of a failing novelist whose last book was titled The Variable Sheath. Released six years ago, it sold poorly and fared even worse with critics; This remains a sore point for the couple, and James in particular, since Em’s father runs the company that published the novel, but it’s far from their only point of contention.
Even at the Pa Qlqa Pearl Princess Resort, where the two have been staying hoping to inspire James to start writing again, they address each other coldly and disinterestedly; it’s clearly a relationship on hold and has been for some time. James soon meets fellow vacationer Gaby (Mia Goth, who last terrorized audiences in Ti West’s retro-horror double-edged X and Pearl), who gives him a hungry stare and introduces herself as a fan of The Variable Sheath. Unlikely as it seems, James could use the ego boost, so he goes to dinner with Gaby and Alban (Jalil Lespert), her wealthy architect husband.
Later, James and Em agree to follow Gabi and Alban outside of the resort, past the barbed wire fence and armed guards patrolling the border for a spin into the Li Tolqa countryside. After walking away to relieve himself, leading to an encounter with Gaby, James dazedly stumbles back to the car and drives everyone back to the resort. But an accident on the way puts him in custody for manslaughter instead. In the care of local detective Thresh (Thomas Kretschmann), James is briefed on Li Tolqa’s unique doubling procedure, a loophole that keeps him off the hook for as long as a doppelganger — to be brought to life in a chamber right there in the precinct — takes the fall instead. Of course James agrees.
Mia Goth and Alexander Skarsgard in Infinity Pool.Neon
Cronenberg, son of body horror maestro David (who filmed Crimes of the Future in Greece as Infinity Pool in Croatia), visualizes the cloning process as a mind-melting deconstruction of the self reminiscent of the psychoplasmic warfare that dominated the latter half of Possessor . The director works again with cinematographer Karim Hussain; Together, the two invent all sorts of phantasmagorical imagery — viscous red liquid congealing around James’ neck, body parts sculpting and deforming as if they were made of putrid wax, neurons glittering like disco balls — that recur in later sequences the narrative overwhelm hot, frenetic waves.
Blending erotic sensations with eerie ones until they are utterly indistinguishable, these hallucinogenic sequences focus on mutating injuries to the flesh: one bodily organ protruding from the other, nipples sprouting uncontrollably, group sex in which the participants’ bodies flow over each other, as if melted by debauchery. Infinity Pool plunges its audience into a strange space that demands a certain level of surrender to its unrelenting psychotronic excess, as well as the existential despair that yawns like an abyss beneath. The questions it asks are less class-conscious than psychologically invasive: Who among us, freed from consequences, can say with certainty how we would act or what effect those actions would have on our ever-flowing sense of self?
Alexander Skarsgärd is unleashed in Infinity Pool.Neon
After the procedure, James easily colludes with the crime that lurks in Gaby and Alban’s life in Li Tolqa. “It’s like a new skin,” Gaby suggests seductively, revealing that she and Alban ran afoul of authorities on a previous stay and went through the process. Now that James knows, he can team up with her other filthy rich friends and run amok in Li Tolqa, safe in the knowledge that their hedonistic behavior will, at worst, result in a nasty blow to their checkbooks.
The details of the doubling process remain raunchy throughout the infinity pool, with some of Gaby’s crew questioning its true nature. “I’ll never know if I’m really myself as long as I live,” says one, a powerful distillation of Cronenberg’s paranoid-schizoid pursuits as a filmmaker. However, once James tries a local psychotropic substance, the Infinity Pool narrative is turned on its head and lurches forward in disoriented nightmare logic, while Gaby sheds her adoring fan form to impose an impressively twisted power dynamic on an increasingly helpless James.
It’s fascinating to see Skarsgärd as the opposite of his throat-ripping Viking from The Northman; always ready for a cinematic acid test, he takes more than he gives in the role, but the actor’s greatest gift is an intense physicality that makes James’ demotion to an animal state and its attendant psychological spiral disturbing to watch. And Goth, never wilder, wrests control of Infinity Pool and never relinquishes it. An almost parodically impulsive sociopath with a thirst for violence and humiliation, not to mention the most convincing cackle of any actress, she operates here in an arcing, vicious register that gradually breaks the film’s reality, but only to its advantage.
“Infinity Pool” reaches its hallucinogenic peak too far before its closing scenes, and it wears off a bit too slowly, as if reflecting the groggy aftermath of a bad trip. But Cronenberg is smart at tying all that it-driven ultra-violence with an oil-slick-black sense of humor. (For example, after James completes the doubling, the detective hands him the ashes in an urn and suggests taking them home “as a souvenir.”) Cronenberg has chosen familiar targets for Infinity Pool, but it’s a fresh, instinctive pleasure to see them broken up by a director devoted to carnal, cranial digging.
Infinity Pool premiered at Sundance on January 21st and is available virtually through January 26th before hitting theaters on January 27th.