Popular art often reflects the politics of its time, so one can likely draw their own conclusions as to why — in recent years — eat-the-rich stories have so thoroughly captured the public’s imagination. In a pop-culture landscape where The White Lotus continues to rack up Emmys with each season, Triangle of Sadness receives multiple Oscar nominations and Succession is one of the most acclaimed shows on television, what can writer-director Brandon Cronenberg possibly bring to the table that’s new with his latest film Infinity Pool?
Quite a bit, as it turns out. James (Alexander Skarsgård) is a failed novelist married to Em (Cleopatra Coleman), the wealthy daughter of his publisher, and we meet them at a swanky resort on the fictional island of La Tolqa, enclosed from the outside by barbed wire and forbidden territory for resort guests. The movie’s general sense of bored malaise suggests this might be just another trip to The White Lotus. Resentful hunk who feels emasculated by his wife? Check! Entitled white people oblivious to the suffering of the locals surrounding them? Check!
Well, given that this is a movie with the name Cronenberg (Brandon being the son of body-horror legend David Cronenberg) attached to it, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Infinity Pool is a far more vicious and demented social satire than any of those aforementioned titles. Its themes — revolving around America’s fetishization of foreign cultures and the line between hedonism and cruelty — aren’t anything new per se, but they’re conveyed through so many inventive plot turns and such shocking imagery that you’ll be too bowled over to nitpick.
When James and Em are invited by another couple, Gabi (Mia Goth) and Alban (Jalil Lespert), to sneak off the resort grounds for a picnic and leisurely drive, things very quickly go south and James ends up performing a fatal hit-and-run on a local La Tolqa resident. The next day, La Tolqa’s finest knock on James and Em’s hotel room door and take James to a grimy holding cell where an officer fills him in on a little loophole their government offers to wealthy tourists who commit crimes abroad. This loophole, which I’d be remiss to spoil here, is where Infinity Pool merges its satire with high-concept science-fiction and repulsive body horror.
What ensues is similar to what might happen if Patrick Bateman, the axe-murdering Wall Street yuppie from American Psycho, decided to take a trip to Fantasy Island. We learn Gabi and Alban are frequent visitors to the La Tolqa resort, and they have a small circle of friends who similarly use and abuse this strange government allowance that essentially gives them free reign to terrorize the poor inhabitants of the island. Cruel? Absolutely, but it stems from the same place of entitlement a particularly grumpy tourist might feel when chastising their server for not bringing their drinks quickly enough while they’re on a cruise.
The level of dangerous decadence in which the characters indulge steadily escalates, and it might not be half as convincing if not for the chilling commitment Goth gives in her performance as Gabi. After being robbed of an Oscar nomination for last year’s Pearl, Goth is somehow even better here. She really seems to have found her groove as an actress playing unhinged, child-like psychos, and while Skarsgård and the rest of the cast are excellent in their own regards, Goth dominates every frame she’s in. There are few actors working today who are this much fun to watch go to such unpleasant extremes.
Like Cronenberg’s last film, Possessor, Infinity Pool takes an alluring science-fiction premise and turns it into a hallucinogenic bloodbath of depravity. This is another movie that pushes boundaries in its unflinching depictions of sex and violence. How this is getting a wide theatrical release is truly baffling; the movie was initially rated NC-17 but was reportedly given some mild edits to achieve an R rating. Every possible body fluid is given ample screen time but it’s never gratuitous. The ease in which human flesh is used for empty sex and violent thrills, and quickly disposed of, reflects the blasé attitudes of the movie’s targets — as in “These atrocities are totally worth it as long as it’s in service of my good time.” It’s a message not everyone may need to see delivered in such thoroughly graphic detail, but for fellow weirdos, Infinity Pool is mandatory viewing.