Sundance Review: “Infinity Pool” Playfully Wades Through Perversion
Written by: Hannah Tran | January 30th, 2023
Infinity Pool (Brandon Cronenberg, 2023) 3 out of 4 stars.
I had the great displeasure of seeing Brandon Cronenberg’s previous film, Possessor, at 2020’s Sundance Film Festival. It’s not that I disliked the story about an assassin who invades others’ bodies from afar to fulfill her kills; I simply couldn’t stomach the gore-fest as it unraveled onscreen, which I’m sure was the intention. Returning to Sundance with his NC-17 cut of his latest film, Infinity Pool, the younger Cronenberg finds his taste for body horror both quenched and refined since his last work. In this story about a rich couple’s nightmare vacation in an unnamed hostile country, Cronenberg artfully indulges in the same creative sci-fi concepts and stomach-churning horror. However, this time, he elevates the technical precision for something that feels more formally impressive, if a little less edgy.
This ethics of cloning are given new meaning in the movie’s deranged world of elitist sadism and public assassinations. Cronenberg’s premise is original, challenging, and even, at times, funny. The film’s main flaw is that it eventually wanders off course from this initial intrigue, as it becomes distracted by the spectacle of its own prolonged violence and sickening extended orgies. But the violence and gross sexuality on display here are so extreme that they are, indeed, often comical in their absurdity. All of it feels as playful as it does serious, and the film’s curiosity about the darkest recesses of human desire is as exciting as it is transgressive.
Despite the grandiosity of the premise, the commentary about the fragility of masculinity seems very straightforward. It’s a thematically simple movie, but the cast does a good job at developing it with their appropriately garish performances. In the lead role of a pitiful author, Alexander Skarsgård (The Northman) is convincingly oblivious to the machinations around him. The movie, however, mainly sets the stage for its lead actress—and, probably, the buzziest scream queen of our day, Mia Goth (X)—to shine. Goth’s unhinged energy and mischievous taunting of Skarsgård is uncomfortable but impossible to look away from.
Their unnatural performances lend themselves well to the nightmarish atmosphere that Cronenberg creates. The dreamy aesthetic of the film, with its bright colors, intricate costumes, and unidentifiable landscapes, adds an eerie undertone. The unclear sense of geography mixed with the background about the nation’s culture gives it a fairytale element that works in its favor. Moreover, the design of the masks, which represent that cultural history, are both grotesque and extraordinarily original. While it may not be able to uphold all of its tantalizing ideas, Infinity Pool does make good use of its atmosphere, enthusiastic cast, and skillful technical ability for an expectedly disgusting, but often delightful, time.