2022 offered a feast of eat-the-rich comedies, between The Menu, Glass Onion, White Lotus, and Triangle of Sadness. 2023 is already taking this subversive subgenre into darker terrain with the new season of You and its “eat-the-rich killer” running amok in London. But writer/director Brandon Cronenberg finds fresh meat for the grinder with his savage offering Infinity Pool. In this twisted vacation tale, the “haves” have come to cannibalize themselves.
Horror and science fiction play at the center of Cronenberg’s follow-up to the eerie Possessor. But amid splurts of blood, piss, semen, and other mysterious oozes, there’s a wickedly wry humor at play. As we watch the merciless fall of a vain and wealthy man, we’re urged to cackle. And who better to usher us down this path of unhinged humor than Pearl‘s shining star, Mia Goth?
What’s Infinity Pool about?
Alexander Skarsgård stars as James Foster, a novelist desperately seeking inspiration after his first book flops. His elegant and affluent wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) has whisked them away to an all-inclusive resort on the fictional island of La Tolqa, hoping he’ll find a muse. The cruelty comes when the couple gets exactly what they wish for. Enter Mia Goth as Gabi, a chaotic and flirtatious actress who lures the couple away from the resort to a beach retreat. A day of sun and secretive sex leads to a hit-and-run that’ll change their lives forever.
Give Mia Goth the Oscar for ‘Pearl’
Here’s where Cronenberg slickly slides away from the expectations White Lotus viewers might have of wealth and murder. Rather than shock or ennui, James is pitched into a cold prison where a comically calm cop tells him he will be executed for his crime. There is one way out, but it’s a deeply disturbing way. For a hefty sum, the local government will create an exact double of James — essentially a clone, who even holds his memories — and the double will be murdered. As part of his punishment, James and his wife must watch as the double’s belly is viciously sliced open by their victim’s eldest son.
What becomes of someone when they’ve witnessed such a thing? This is the dark and enthralling question that Cronenberg’s film explores with a crooked grin.
What does Infinity Pool mean?
Carrying an urn of his double’s ashes back to the resort as a twisted souvenir, James slowly realizes he’s hit a level of wealth where there are no consequences he can’t buy his way out of. As he sees it, nothing he does matters, because it won’t actually affect him. So, what is to become of him when he finds other self-proclaimed “zombies” like himself? What is your moral code when you can even cheat death?
Here’s where the title plays into a slick metaphor. James hears about an infinity pool accident on the island, where the doubles of the people installing it were killed. The infinity pool, where the optical illusion of the pool’s edge makes it seem as if the water goes on forever, reflects his plight. While this might seem like a sense of freedom, it also means this new reality for James is one he cannot escape. He is drowning in a pool of increasingly debased behaviors, giving in to every wretched impulse civility urges us to avoid. Group sex and drug trips lead to mounting acts of violence with no seeming end in sight.
Cronenberg plunges these scenes of debauchery into psychedelic splashes of vivid color. Strobe light effects push audiences into the surreal space of these remorseless revelers. Close-ups of thrusting flesh, nipples dripping dark pus, and a vagina sprouting an erect penis turn a hot orgy into a sequence of titillating body horror. Yet the intensity of these close-ups recalls early scenes of seeming innocence: the tangle of fingers holding hands or a stream of piss hitting a stony beach. Simple pleasures lost to the thrall of chasing death.
If you loved Pearl, you better turn up for Infinity Pool.
Having broken out with his lusty turn as vampire Eric Northman on True Blood, Skarsgård is no stranger to the allure of sex and horror. But here, he is no god of both. He is a dog. The broad-shouldered hunk shrinks into the role astoundingly, cowering before the blooming nightmare that has become his reality, exploding in bursts of aggression and desire with no fear of looking foolish. His frenzy is a gift to the film. But Goth is its queen.
From A Cure to Wellness to Suspiria, X , and Pearl, Goth is carving her own throne in modern horror, and Infinity Pool bows down to her majesty. At first, she flits about, a flirt and fantasy playing to James’s vanity and not–so–secret desires. But that bright smile turns to a sharp frown. Her dazzling eyes go dark. Goth becomes a nightmare who can yell preposterously juvenile barbs (“You sucky baby!”) yet somehow make them sting.
Cronenberg’s film is rich with ferocity. The fictional nation, derided by Gabi as “filthy and brutal,” is a place of corruption, violence, and grisly incongruity, where the wealthy are encouraged to act out their fantasies as long as they pay the price. A local festival is bedecked with ghoulish masks that look like mutilated gnarls of human flesh, pink with infection or grey with decay. When worn collectively, they are not only a ghastly sight but a gruesome promise of carnage to come. Graphic violence erupts throughout Infinity Pool, splashing blood, tearing skin, and shattering bone, turning humans into unrecognizable puddles of gore that recall those creepy masks. And yet somehow Goth is the most unnerving.
Her breezy transformation from dream girl to nightmare is recurringly chilling, as she dons a metaphorical mask and drops it with ease. Behind her doll face lies a gaping maw that can never be satiated, ever hungering for depravity and horror. She is ravenous for destruction, gobbling up every experience, be it grossly luxurious or lushly repulsive. And through her hunger, Cronenberg calls out the insatiability of the impossibly wealthy. But far from the cathartic comeuppance offered by 2022’s eat-the-rich comedies, Infinity Pool offers a more cynical view. Here, the wealthy might be their own worst enemies, but their downfalls — even when spectacular— are still padded by mountains of disposable income. So, Cronenberg’s ending, jarringly mellow in tone after all that comes before, is hauntingly, ruthlessly effective.
Infinity Pool will make you squirm, but without the release of a climactic punchline. Instead, this satire of wealth and privilege will leave you stranded in its putrid muck, but perhaps smiling at the sheer gall of its horror.
Infinity Pool made its World Premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. It opens in select theaters Jan. 27.