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- Reviewed by the 2023 Sundance Film Festival
Brandon Cronenberg’s new thriller Infinity Pool envisions a world where it’s possible to get away with murder provided 1) you’re willing to pay a heavy price for the privilege, and 2) you don’t mind a corpse to be. The film is set in a fictional seaside tourist trap country called La Tolqa, whose ruling authorities have access to technology that allows them to clone any foreigner who violates the locals, a cunning ploy that turns the death penalty into just another exotic spectacle transformed. Novelist James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård) stares at the sight of his own lookalike being stabbed – the agreed-upon punishment for mowing down a farmer during a drunken car escapade – horrified, relieved and fascinated: what, he wonders, are the other fringe benefits to be expendable?
Viewed as a satire of Western exploitation and decadence, Infinity Pool feels like a spiritual sequel to the Hostel films (2005-11), trading in the politicized Bush-era torture porn for a more ideologically benign (though no less crisp) mode of warning Fable. The underlying joke is that Jake – seemingly talentless, his only novel published solely at the mercy of his father-in-law, the industry titan – is already carrying himself like a clone and his adventures in La Tolqa, mostly in the company of the sexy Westerner Gabi (Mia Goth), finally activate his humanity – albeit in its lowest and most cowardly form and at great personal risk.
Skarsgård, an underrated comic actor who has gradually learned to play against his golden looks, modulates James’ descent into depravity with witty, sweaty confidence while Goth – currently on a winning streak with Ti West’s X-Series (2022-) the genre goddess – cheers in her character’s degaussed moral compass: she wallows in blood and gore as if she were Esther Williams at an outdoor swimming pool.
The real showpiece, however, is Cronenberg, whose collaboration with cinematographer Karim Hussain, which ties into 2021’s Possessor, produces the kind of pulsing, stroboscopic intensity that can make narrative clarity impossible — or irrelevant. While it would be nice to report that after three feature films the director has even gradually stepped out of his (in)comfort zone, the opposite is true: Infinity Pool has become so immersed in its own meticulously quirky montage and soundscape that we’re forced to dive headfirst. A film that’s so technically adept — and brave in its own way — should deserve more than a Jean Brodie-esque acknowledgment that for people who like that sort of thing, this is the kind of thing they’re going to like. But in the absence of anything to defuse or contextualize Cronenberg’s atrocity exhibition — such as Possessor’s touching, complex parental themes — it’s hard to say much more.