Rich-playboy-kills-poor-person-with-car has been the set up for many a class drama, from Bonfire of the Vanities to two great movies from 2021, Ramin Bahrani’s White Tiger and John Michael McDonagh’s The Forgiven. David Cronenberg’s son, Brandon (Possessor) is back with Infinity Pool, which takes the same essential premise and asks “what if more psychedelic-sexual and with a hint of sci-fi?”
The basic idea of this premise is skewering the colonial hubris of rich people, or even just those from the developed world, who think they can just go to poorer countries or areas and treat it like their own consequence-free zone, doing drugs and sex and rock ‘n’ roll like they never would at home and assuming they can just buy their way out of it if anything goes wrong, because poor folks who might get hurt along the way don’t count as much.
There’s maybe some irony to the idea of a legacy case like Brandon Cronenberg (are “Nepo Babies” the aristocrats of the art world?) taking this premise and mostly just… adding more drugs and sex and rock ‘n’ roll. I’m not convinced that Infinity Pool is doing much to further the themes already covered in similar works, but it certainly has panache, and Mia Goth once again acting her ass off, and one could do a lot worse than that.
Alexander Skarsgard plays James Foster, a novelist struggling with his long-delayed second book who has come to the fictional island of La Tolqa in the hopes of finding some inspiration. He’s brought with him his barely-a-character wife, Em (Cleopatra Coleman) who happens to be paying for the trip, on account of her father is a rich publisher. La Tolqa is a rugged island paradise (filmed on the Adriatic coast of Croatia) where foreigners come to have corny, contrived adventures, but so backward and dangerous that the tourists are forbidden from venturing outside the barbed-wire gates of their resort.
James and Em dutifully follow the rules, painting their faces and buying traditional (and conveniently creepy) masks, until James discovers he has a fan — Gabi, played by Mia Goth. Gabi flatters James’ vanity and oozes sexuality, more than enough to lure James and Em outside the wire for a night of louche carousing and swingery intimations alongside her Swiss husband, Alban — one of those names you can hear 10 times and still not be sure you heard right (Jalil Lespert). Alvin? Arvin? Albert? Armond? Maybe we just call you Frenchy until you can stop swallowing Rs and differentiate Bs from Vs.
Despite the “me and my wife liked your vibe” vibe of the whole evening, things mostly stay within the bounds of misdemeanor crimes until James has an oopsy behind the wheel. He falls afoul of the La Tolqa authorities and soon discovers that they have a flair for fine brutalist architecture and a very peculiar justice system, combining Old Testament, or maybe even pre-Christian morality with futuristic biotech. Yes, I’m being a little vague here to avoid spoilers. Think Vacation Friends meets Dual, if that means anything to you (both movies worth seeing, incidentally).
It’s an intriguing concept, and there’s maybe something to the idea of this “backward” country utilizing futuristic tech not to raise the standard of living or help the locals, but instead to merely further inequality, deepen corruption, and make the colonialism thing even more frictionless. Taking shots at techno-utopianism is hot right now, but still welcome.
There are some interesting ideas in Infinity Pool, I’m just not sure they’re complementary ones. Cronenberg (who wrote and directed) seems like he has a setting and a premise and a couple ideas, but can’t quite make them fit together and so he mostly just stages some psychedelic orgies (along with the occasional jump scare). That’s mostly a criticism, but again, you could do worse than psychedelic orgies. I couldn’t make an advanced screening so I had to settle for seeing the R-rated theatrical cut, which was notably absent Alexander Skarsgard hanging dong. A shame, a glimpse of the Skarsdong would’ve really tied the room together (Infinity Pool does still have some boobs and a little semen, in case you were wondering).
Probably the most notable thing Infinity Pool does is solidify Mia Goth’s position as the undisputed scream queen of arthouse horror. Goth could never be accused of not “going for it,” and just like in Pearl, she consistently steals scenes in freaky and unexpected ways, sans visible eyebrows. It’s not quite enough to make Infinity Pool anything approaching great, but it’s enough to make it watchable.
‘Infinity Pool’ is out in theaters everywhere January 27. Vince Mancini is on Twitter. You can read more of his reviews here.