Having horrified audiences most recently with 2020’s Possessor, Brandon Cronenberg – son of David – is about to make an even bigger arterial splash with Infinity Pool, a lysergic hymn to ritual bloodletting and spoilt Westerners who enjoy languorous holidays in other people’s misery. The film stars Alexander Skarsgård and Mia Goth.
Much has already been made of the younger Cronenberg’s continuation of his father’s legacy in the realm of nightmarish spectacle, and yet the spectre of another singular imagination hangs over this film like a heavy black-out curtain. With its cast of bored professionals hungering after ultra-violent distraction and its mining of the brutality that lurks within the power dynamics of a luxury resort, it’s impossible to watch Infinity Pool without thinking of J.G. Ballard. Novels such as Super-Cannes, Concrete Island and Crash feel woven into its very fabric, establishing a sense of creative debt that it never entirely escapes, even when its pulverising brilliance climaxes, takes a breather, and envelopes you for yet another spin.
The film crash lands us straight into the disappointing vacation of novelist James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård) and his very wealthy wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman), off for a restorative stay in the fictional Central European country of Li Tolqa. Quickly befriended by a creepy Eurotrash couple played by Mia Goth and Jalil Lespert, the Fosters are swept off for a day outside the stifling compound in which their luxury resort is housed. When a car accident leads James to be arrested by the local police, the Fosters discover a bizarre quirk of Li Tolqa’s legal system. In exchange for a thick wad of cash, a lab-grown autonomous doppelgänger can be made to suffer punishments in your place, no matter how severe. This spectacle of extravagant cruelty awakes something in James, showing a possible way out of the writer’s block with which he has been struggling, and he soon finds himself gripped in the vortex of the Bauer’s exhilarating, menacing lifestyle.
The visual language of Infinity Pool is disorientation by any means necessary. An early sequence rotates the camera aggressively on its axis across the concrete pour resort. Foster’s interrogation scene sees the camera lens distort the detective at the back of the shot into a Giacometti statue as he tonelessly details the perfunctory legal arrangements. The scales, pores and contours of flesh are seen in extreme close-up at every opportunity. It achieves an effect of revulsion as thorough as the very frequent and graphic spilling of blood.
Possessor had a more enigmatic quality to its story-telling which is absent in this film. Here everything is compressed and pushed to the foreground. But if the overall plot is a little two-dimensional, a little ‘tell me something I don’t know’ in its mining of upper-middle-class callousness, it’s hard to fault the magnetic craft of this exquisitely unpleasant picture, like a broiling jacuzzi of hallucinatory sex and violence that you might briefly dip a toe into, if you dare.
Tom Duggins | @duggins_tom