Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Writer: Brandon Cronenberg
Stars: Alexander Skarsgård, Mia Goth, Cleopathra Coleman, Thomas Kretschmann
Synopsis: James and Em Foster are enjoying an all-inclusive beach vacation in the fictional island of La Tolqa, when a fatal accident exposes the resort’s perverse subculture of hedonistic tourism, reckless violence and surreal horrors.
“Boring” wouldn’t seem to be the first word that comes to mind with a new movie directed by Brandon Cronenberg (Possessor) and starring Alexander Skarsgård and last year’s break-out Mia Goth, but after an intriguing opening that sets up the characters and environment, Infinity Pool gets so weird so fast that it becomes difficult to care. This is one of those flashy, well-made genre films that will have its fans, but I found it to be a frustrating medley of several other projects that told their unusual stories with more depth and precision.
Infinity Pool has the feel of The White Lotus at the beginning, a novelist named James (Skarsgård) and his wife (Cleopatra Coleman) staying at an elusive beach paradise in the country of Li Tolqa. It’s a place where the rich come to get away with anything they want, including murder, and where director Cronenberg chooses to transplant his characters into a place that slowly devolves into Hell. Goth plays Gabi, who recognizes James from his latest book she’s read, and she invites him and his wife to a dinner that leads to a late-night car ride that results in a violent death and a terrifying fate for James.
I’m all for weird movies that don’t play it safe, that shock and disturb and refuse to play by the roles, but these kinds of films need to have interesting characters to care about and a compelling narrative that pulls you toward a satisfying conclusion, and Infinity Pool has little of that. Part of the problem begins with Skarsgård, sad to say, because although he’s given lots of great performances, especially in season one of Big Little Lies and as Amleth in last year’s The Northman, he usually fares better as a villain or as an intimidating figure to be feared. The character of average Joe who’s often scared and looking wide-eyed doesn’t suit him as well, and casting someone more vulnerable like Andrew Garfield, Paul Mescal, or Dev Patel would’ve allowed an offbeat story like this a better chance at success.
Mia Goth, alternatively, is perfect casting for the film, her roles in both X and Pearl two of my favorites from last year; the problem is her character doesn’t stand out much from those better, more emotional turns she’s given us in genre fare in recent months, and her delivery in Infinity Pool doesn’t have the same power as her delivery in Pearl, especially. The character feels underwritten, one meant to coast by on her charisma alone, and Gabi needs more to do, especially as the story begins to spiral into several chaotic directions.
You can’t fault Cronenberg for going bold with some choices, most memorably with a close-up of someone’s body part that seems impossible to have made it into an R-rated movie. But it’s this kind of moment that turned me off early on, there is no specific reason why this explicit shot exists other than to shock the viewer. Later, when science fiction elements take over, including clones of the characters we’ve already met, Cronenberg delights in a variety of ways of executing those clones to an outrageous extent. And as the story descends more and more into madness, any meaning the story was supposed to have seems to be lost, and any enjoyment rests simply on the surface of the filmmaker’s aesthetics.
And for all its outrageous images, there’s too much of a feeling of déjà vu. A seemingly never-ending scene involving a hit-and-run feels ripped right out of I Know What You Did Last Summer, even in the direct dialogue between the characters that happens after the crash, and as much as I enjoyed the hypnotic images of the characters wearing weird masks on the way to a late-night event, this sequence reminded me too much of Eyes Wide Shut, which Stanley Kubrick accomplished better in terms of style, substance, and the arc of the main character.
By the time we reach the final act of the absurdly long two-hour running time, I had stopped caring about what was going to happen to the characters, and that is death for me in any movie. A film can be slow, weird, uneventful–fine. But if the characters aren’t pulling me through a story like they should, I check out. Writer/director Brandon Cronenberg’s father David understands how to blend sharply written characters with horrific situations in masterpieces like The Fly, Dead Ringers, and A History of Violence. Infinity Pool, on the other hand, is a disappointing late January release that will likely come and go, and here’s hoping next time Brandon Cronenberg will use his talent for dazzling visual storytelling for something more involving on a narrative level.