Writer’s block. It’s a b!tch. For author James Foster (Alexander Skarsgärd) whose debut novel garnered praise from the literary world, it’s been over half a decade with no follow-up in sight. Unlikely that he’ll join the ranks of Salinger, Brontë, or Plath, he’s come to a secluded island resort with his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) for a little R&R and a lot of inspiration. He finds both thanks to tourists Gabi (Mia Goth) and her husband Alban (Jalil Lespert), but at what cost? “Infinity Pool” from writer-director Brandon Cronenberg is the ultimate vacation from hell, ensanguined with images so disturbing they take several hours to fully process. Think of it as the nightmare that just keeps on giving.
Last year, Skarsgärd and Goth delivered exceptional performances in “The Northman” and “Pearl.” Cronenberg should be praised for bringing them together to collaborate on his third film which follows “Antiviral” and “Possessor.” The two actors, well-suited for this mishmash of horror and science fiction, have such a strong screen presence that it’s impossible to look away when taken out of your comfort zone. The ultramasculine Swedish-born Skarsgärd known for playing Vikings and a Viking-turned-vampire is no match for Goth who carries over that Texas farm girl psyche from her Ti West character to wreak havoc on all who cross her path.
It’s been six years since James Foster (Skarsgärd) made his mark in the literary universe with a brilliant debut novel. Enough time has gone by that most people have forgotten about James; his 15 minutes of fame have lapsed. Remarkably, Gabi (Goth) is still a huge fan and as luck would have it, she’s also a guest at the isolated island resort Li Tolqa (a fictitious country substituted by Croatia) where our author and his wife are vacationing.
After fangirling, “I’ve been waiting six years for your next book, is it coming out soon?” Gabi insists that James and his wife Em (Coleman), join her and Alban (Lespert), a jovial guy who’s always pouring drinks, for dinner. The two couples loosen up as the alcohol flows. Em admits she’s rich, paying for the vacay, while James remarks he came to Li Tolqa “looking for inspiration.”
Beautiful white sandy beaches surround the resort, which explains its popularity, however, the playground for the ultra-rich is contrasted by the destitute residents of the island community run by a frightening detective named Thresh (Thomas Kretschmann). The barbed wire fence surrounding Li Tolqa and the armed guards stationed at the entrance serve as a warning that guests are not allowed to wander outside the resort. However, when you’re rich and the staff is poor, it’s easy to grease the wheels. So, off go the two couples to explore the island in a car Alban rented from one of the resort’s employees. Inspiration is about to hit James like a ton of bricks.
There is a scene during the couples’ excursion that earned “Infinity Pool” an NC-17 rating, think Vincent Gallo’s “The Brown Bunny.” BTW, may I interject? There is a hilarious discussion on a moviechat.org forum about the validity of the BB scene in question where guys argue about how long they can stay erect. For Cronenberg to bring the film in with an R-rating, the scene was edited, but he leaves little to the imagination. I’m sure the scene will be restored for an uncensored home video release.
The downward spiral begins when James takes on the role of designated driver after Alban admits he’s too drunk to drive. As they head back to the resort later that evening, an islander darts out in front of the car and is killed by James. Alban warns James not to call 911 because the police are corrupt and so they head back to the resort. It doesn’t matter. The next day, Detective Thresh arrests James. He’s told that the punishment for any crime on the island is death administered by a family member. There is, however, a catch for the wealthy.
For the right price, the authorities will manufacture a clone that will take your place at the execution. The only catch, you must be in attendance to watch your own death. The clone not only looks and sounds like you, but it’s also implanted with your memories, so it knows what it, in reality: you, did wrong. Of course, anyone that is given this option can afford it which explains the ATM conveniently located on the premises.
Cronenberg takes a deep dive into Sci-fi but brilliantly avoids the “hows and why” leaving the specifics to the viewer’s imagination. There is one scene where James meets his clone before the execution. The duplicate is submerged in a vat of red fluid resembling blood. As it awakens the clone panics when it sees James standing next to it. It’s a truly disturbing moment when you think about the implications of the situation. What’s going through the clone’s head? What’s James thinking? One thing is for sure, Em is disgusted by the situation and decides to head back home. James is intrigued, so he pretends to lose his passport and stays behind for another week at the resort.
The film’s second half is so intense that as you’re witnessing the horror happening on screen you don’t have time to fully absorb the ramifications of everyone’s actions. I’ve only skimmed the surface of where Cronenberg takes you. As more characters are introduced the story becomes complex with Mia Goth delivering another unforgettable performance that gives “Pearl” a run for the money. As expected, the film goes off the rails a few times which will leave some viewers disjointed but like father, like son, Cronenbergs don’t adhere to the “less is more” approach.
“Infinity Pool” is brimming with sinister imagery beginning with the distorted flesh-like masks worn by the locals during rituals that must be part of the Leatherface collection. Worn by Gabi and her cronies later in the film it feels like we’re headed for a home invasion scene, but Cronenberg has way more distressing plans that question what we are witnessing. Who’s a clone and who’s human? And by the way, morals aren’t reserved for the underprivileged. This movie messed me up. I’m still thinking about it, days later.
(3 ½ stars)
Now showing in theaters