Infinity Pool review (Sundance 2023) – The rich go wild once again.

Brandon Cronenberg's follow-up to Possessor is made fun by Mia Goth, but it fails to examine its rich characters' relationship to their setting or the locals.

Infinity Pool

In the last few months alone we’ve had the rich turning murderous in Italy in The White Lotus, more murder amongst the 1% on a Greek Island in Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, as well as the rich getting their comeuppance at an island restaurant in The Menu and on a deserted island after their superyacht shipwrecks in Triangle of Sadness. And we’ll soon be watching a rich family tear one another apart once again in Succession season 4. It seems that “eat the rich” movies and shows are all the rage at the moment, and the latest writer-director to get in on the trend is Brandon Cronenberg.

Brandon Cronenberg no longer just has his father’s name to live up to, but the pressure has been further applied due to the critical acclaim of his last Sundance movie Possessor (2020). Therefore, hype is through the roof for Infinity Pool – which sees the rich gather on an exclusive resort on a fictitious island and things quickly turning violent.

Author James Foster (Alexander Skarsgard) and his younger wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) head to a resort on the island of Li Tolqa where he is hoping to shake his writer’s block after publishing his last book six years before. They meet young actress Gabi (Mia Goth) and her much older partner Alban (Jalil Lespert), who is an architect.

Gabi persuades James and Em to leave the resort compound – something that is strictly forbidden for tourists – and they enjoy a drunken picnic on the beach. On their way back, James accidentally runs over a local farmer. He is taken to the police station, where Detective Thresh (Thomas Kretschmann) matter-of-factly informs James that it is the custom on the island for the eldest son of the victim to execute the one responsible for his death. But for a fee, James can pay to have a clone made of himself, and the clone will be killed instead.

Understandably, things begin to unravel from this point on. There are grotesque masks which seem to be another part of the local culture, and which add to the nightmare as things spiral out of control for James. Gabi encouraging James to take hallucinogenic drugs gives Cronenberg the excuse for the visuals to descend into flashes of neon-drenched images – mostly of distorted body parts which become monstrous in James’ visions.

It will come as no surprise that Mia Goth – who has impressed so much in 2022 with Ti West’s X and especially Pearl – is the real stand-out here. It’s easy to see why James falls under her spell – she’s a temptress with an insatiable penchant for sex and violence. Goth relishes the role – going to town with the dominance and power that Gabi possesses.

Infinity Pool

As with many of the recent “eat the rich” movies and shows, the social commentary aspect is where Infinity Pool falls down. The island is kept deliberately vague – we could be in Latin America or the Pacific – and the inhabitants are largely faceless and anonymous. That is, except for the Detective who is played by a German actor for some reason. We, the audience, are kept at the same distance from the indigenous population as the privileged tourists are.

The rich are using and exploiting the island to get their own kicks, to fulfill their deepest, darkest violent desires and use it as their own personal playground. They don’t care about the consequences, and the effects aren’t shown to us, the audience, either. Watching the events play out is fun, and there is a vague sense that we’re supposed to be disgusted with the characters. However, the final act of this thriller movie offers no catharsis.

Infinity Pool

The island society seems fascinating – they are apparently deeply religious, there are blue and red spots placed under the eye in a tribalistic manner, and the masks are extremely intriguing. But we only get snippets of information relayed by the resort staff or the detective – we don’t get to see any of it first-hand. We are kept at a remove, so how much are we supposed to care about the negative impact of tourism, and these especially awful people, on the locals?

Cronenberg seems to be saying; “they have a strong sense of justice, which is entwined with their religion, culture, and traditions – but if you throw enough cash at them, they will look the other way and not care about all of that.” Which seems not a great examination of how indigenous populations (Hawaii being a prime example) are exploited by tourism.

Infinity Pool

So, as with many of these anti-capitalist movies and shows – they are fun on the surface, but if you start thinking about them too deeply or unpacking the themes and messages – they quickly fall apart. This science fiction movie is certainly entertaining – Skarsgard and Goth are both great, the shocking levels of sex and violence which are graphically depicted are gnarly (if you like that sort of thing), and the visuals are trippy.

But the film seems as dismissive of the setting and the local people as the obnoxious rich characters are. If the island were a real place, then careful research would have been required and local involvement would have been essential. Making it fictitious seems like an easy way to get around any awkward questions that may arise. Keeping the locals blandly anonymous is convenient, but prevents the film actually being about anything.

Infinity Pool

Cronenberg’s follow-up is big on shock value and trippy visuals, and is massively elevated by Mia Goth relishing her deliciously evil character. But this is yet another movie which lets its disgustingly rich characters off the hook far too easily and the fictitious setting is a far too convenient “get out of jail free” card for Cronenberg.

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Infinity Pool review (Sundance 2023)

Goth once again shines in Brandon Cronenberg’s perverse, gory, trippy island vacation. There is plenty of fun to be had with the performances, visuals and the shock-value of the sex and violence. But this is yet another empty, surface-level movie about despicable rich characters which lets them off the hook far too easily.

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