I’m not sure people truly get how sick and twisted the mind of Brandon Cronenberg really is. His two previous films, Antiviral and the incredible mind-fuck Possessor, will leave you turned inside out and every which way. But they are nothing compared to the maniacal, surreal, and utterly genius Infinity Pool. Cronenberg turns his insane gaze at the unchecked games of the elite class, offering an unapologetically violent and depraved thriller that pushes its ‘R’ rating to the limit.
Seriously, how did this get an ‘R’ rating, anyway? Within the first few minutes, we’ve already had a close-up of Alexander Skarsgard’s ejaculating penis. Shortly before that, we’re introduced to Skarsgard’s character, James Foster, a novelist with one book years earlier and a lot of nothing ever since. Good thing he married well! He and Em (Cleopatra Coleman) are vacationing in an exclusive Li Tolqa resort, one barricaded with barbed wire to keep out the locals who are no fans of rich tourists. James hopes the trip will break his writer’s block and offer some fresh ideas.
He. Has. No. Fucking. Idea.
James is instantly taken with the mysterious Gabi (Mia Goth, shockingly good yet again), a devoted fan of his work. Who doesn’t want to feel the adoration of a fan? It isn’t long before James and Em are convinced by Em and her partner Alban (Jalil Lespert) to venture illegally beyond the resort walls. This wild, drunken night is shattered when James commits a hit and run, killing a local man.
The next day, all four are taken in by the police, or for what passes as police in a crime-infested place like this. They are told that the rules are different in the country they’re in. A murder must be avenged by the victim’s son. A death for a death. However, the rich have a way out. Because of course they do. They need to keep those tourist dollars flowing. So they have a process that will clone James so that it can be murdered in his stead. The catch is that James must watch this death occur.
Cronenberg sets up a number of sick possibilities here. For one, he’s commenting on the disgustingly rich who are always able to buy their way out of trouble. Also, how badly would it fuck you up to have to watch yourself being killed? To see yourself grovel, whine, and beg for your life only to be slaughtered like meat? And, perhaps most intriguingly, what if they didn’t kill the clone and it was the real James who died? If you were the clone, would you know? Would you care?
Infinity Pool tackles all of these questions with reckless, bloody abandon, making for the most purely entertaining film of Cronenberg’s career. And yet, Cronenberg still finds ways to take this crazed story to unforseen places. James isn’t the only one who has undergone this process. By the contrary, Gabi, Alban, and a motley crew of wealthy scumbags have, as well. And for them, having their clones pay the price for their misdeeds has freed them of any moral compass whatsoever. They kill and steal and do whatever they want with murderous glee, confident they won’t have to answer for any of it.
As Cronenberg relishes in the utter chaos he has created, he’s unafraid to go to more grotesque, psycho-sexual places. It doesn’t all work; as Cronenberg sometimes loses sight of the narrative in his attempts to shock and awe the audience. There are scenes that seem to exist solely to send the weak-hearted scrambling to the exits. But when he’s firmly in control, few can conjure up an unforgettable image quite like Cronenberg. With the aid of Goth and Skarsgard, he delivers what could be the most striking act of humiliation ever captured on screen. In this moment, with the perfectly-nutty Goth draped over a car hood, we see a man have ever ounce of his being torn asunder under a hail of words that cut deeper than any knife. Goth is doing, I think, Oscar-worthy work and the best of her career. There is no better actress in the realm of genre than her. Skarsgard is overshadowed by her to a degree but he’s also good in a role that asks him to strip away the virile masculinity we all come to expect. It’s hard to see him as ever starring in The Northman after something like this.
Cronenberg continues to level up as a filmmaker, and the thing is, he hasn’t come close to hitting his peak. As dark as Infinity Pool is, it’s also damn funny in such a sick way you’ll hate yourself for laughing at it. It’s excessive in all of the best ways that violent genre films can be. There’s no end to what Cronenberg can do, and the more he’s willing to take risks, the better he’ll get.
Infinity Pool opens in theaters on January 27th.