tue 18/06/2024

Infinity Pool review - it's like The White Lotus on bad acid | reviews, news & interviews

Infinity Pool review - it's like The White Lotus on bad acid

Infinity Pool review - it's like The White Lotus on bad acid

Brandon Cronenberg's third feature is a nightmare journey into horror-tourism

Travel blows the mind: Mia Goth and Alexander Skarsgård

Director Brandon Cronenberg has inherited his father David’s eye for the twisted and the sinister. After the creepy mind-meld dystopia of 2020’s Possessor, Infinity Pool finds Cronenberg turning his attention to horror-tourism. It’s like The White Lotus on bad acid.

Infinity Pool is set in the fictional coastal nation of Li Tolqa – the film was shot in Croatia, but wherever it is, Li Tolqa is an impoverished police state with a draconian legal system which stipulates the death penalty for all crimes. Queasily inverted camera angles and shots of a menacing sunset and dark, roiling waves suggest that this paradise may be long-lost.

We meet James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård) and his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman), a couple who evidently have a few issues lurking not far beneath the surface. James is a novelist, though his sole published effort was six years earlier and was a resounding flop. He doesn’t seem convinced that he was ever supposed to be a writer, and the cushioning effect of the extreme wealth of his wife’s family has left him resentful and disillusioned.

All of which makes him fair game for a group of sleazy sensation seekers who have found Li Tolqa to be the destination of their dreams. However, this is not because of the scenery or the weather, as James discovers. It all begins when he meets fellow guests Gabi and Alban Bauer (Mia Goth and Jalil Lespert) at their luxury resort hotel. It’s Gabi (an imperious performance by Goth) who breaks the ice, professing groupie-like enthusiasm for James’s novel. The two couples team up for a day of driving around the countryside, which might have seemed harmless except for the part where Gabi surprises James by giving him a hand-job (complete with a startlingly graphic ejaculating-penis shot). Not that he makes much effort to stop her (pictured above, Goth goes gun-crazy).

Things begin to spin out of control. James is arrested after their car hits a pedestrian, and under local law the victim’s son is entitled to execute him. However, there is a loophole. If he can stump up a thick wad of cash, he can have a clone of himself created which can be executed in his stead.

This clearly demands some suspension of disbelief, not least regarding how a ramshackle country prone to widespread corruption might be equipped with incredible futuristic cloning technology. However, it gives Cronenberg a vehicle for an oblique commentary on capitalist exploitation, racism and the vapid decadence of the amoral rich, as James is drawn into Gabi and Alban’s ring of sensation-seeking freaks.

Themes of identity and loss thereof start to creep in as James finds himself embroiled in drug-addled orgies with this unsavoury cabal. Though one of the cops insists that “our country is not a playground for foreign children”, that’s exactly what it is, a honey-trap for voyeurs and thrill-junkies who feel only contempt for the local population (illustrated in the way Gabi and her friends toy carelessly with grotesque ethnic masks, pictured above). This audience of ghouls are thrilled to watch the slaughter of the clones, and James is sucked into a vortex of self-annihilation which plays out all too literally.

It’s a powerful theme, occasionally leavened by flashes of satirical black humour, and Skarsgård skilfully portrays a man watching in disgust as his soul is sucked out of him, but the film feels stretched at two hours. Chaotic, psychedelic scenes of sexual abandon veer remorselessy into gross-out territory, and Cronenberg is a sucker for bouts of slash-and-gore that keep on running long after their point has been made (it’s probably in his chromasomes). Yet there’s no denying that Infinity Pool lingers malevolently in the mind.

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