An infinity pool appeals to tourists because of its apparent lack of boundaries. It allows them to sit comfortably whilst gazing thrillingly at the landscape beyond. Although the title INFINITY POOL alludes to several other things as well, the literal meaning is an apt metaphor for Brandon Cronenberg’s third feature: a visually and technically impressive effort, requiring care and precision to pull off, but all in service of sticking well within the confines of its carefully hidden but clearly present boundaries.
James (Alexander Skarsgård) is a writer on holiday with his wife, Em (Cleopatra Coleman), in the fictional state of Li Tolqa: a stand-in for various places where tourists are blithely unaware of the financial and social reality of the actual country (which also has vaguely autocratic overtones). Indeed, guests at their resort are not allowed to leave their compound, so trouble ensues when another couple – Gabi (Mia Goth) and Alban (Jalil Lespert) – tempt them away for an evening. After the evening goes awry, and at the mercy of Li Tolqan law enforcement, James is given an opportunity if he can afford it: he can escape the punishment of execution but must watch an exact clone of him (memories and all) be killed instead. The effect this has on James spirals, as does the hedonistic influence of Gabi.
As may be expected of the Cronenberg surname, the explicitness of INFINITY POOL gives the film much of its provocative punch, and there is a precision to its implementation. The film’s opening of a disorienting and twisting camera above the resort may not be the most imaginative way to establish an immediate air of anxiety. Still, it is incredibly effective (especially when combined with Tim Hecker’s music). When the sexual tension between James and Gabi is brutally and swiftly brought to a head by the hand of Gabi, a cut to a rolling and ominous body of water delivers an emphatic (if well-worn) metaphor for the warning signs of the coming chaos. Goth’s and Skarsgård’s performances are also compelling here, but the script they deliver is where the illusion of boundary-pushing in INFINITY POOL starts to look more limited.
“Goth’s and Skarsgård’s performances are also compelling here, but the script they deliver is where the illusion of boundary-pushing in INFINITY POOL starts to look more limited.”
The wealthy clientele of the resort is well-insulated from the social reality of their hosts, apart from an early scene of a protesting local. In this regard, INFINITY POOL follows the prevailing wind of opinion on this style of tourism when the grotesque Faustian bargain James strikes is referred to by the local Detective Thresh (Thomas Kretschmann) as “[part of] our longstanding tourist initiative”. The execution scene lingers not only upon the inevitable gore but also on the local child charged with carrying it out (because of his blood connection to the crime’s victim). The face of the original James hints at the horrible ‘freeing’ feeling this gives him, and the unrestrained exploits of Gabi and her cronies alludes to the idea of these wealthy tourists as an occupying and oppressive force, free of consequences, pursuing the hedonistic pleasure that their status allows them.
The moral vacuum of the uber-rich has been critiqued substantially in recent film history, from GLASS ONION to TRIANGLE OF SADNESS, and on television via The White Lotus. INFINITY POOL has many other ideas swirling around in its bloody pool. The notion of self in the face of a literal replica is shared with previous fellow Sundance debutante, DUAL, and many more sci-fi-focused pieces of work. The moral degradation and antics of the guests are reminiscent of A CLOCKWORK ORANGE’s droogs, whilst looking at consequence-free human behaviour through a tourism lens has shades of Westworld. However, unlike any of these older examples, INFINITY POOL is content to leave such themes without much interrogation, treating them as window dressing to its more shocking and visceral pursuits.
“…unlike any of these older examples, INFINITY POOL is content to leave such themes without much interrogation, treating them as window dressing to its more shocking and visceral pursuits.”
Despite the constant presence of these elements, the story does not probe James’ mindset as it progresses, nor the nature of Gabi and Alban’s moral decay. The small amount of context given to Li Tolqa leaves it unclear whether their actions are opportunistic or the tail end of an ethical descent instigated by the leeway granted to them. The film is content to revel in the horror of its set pieces rather than interrogate some of the motivations driving said ideas.
The result is still a compelling film that effectively garners visceral and spontaneous reactions to thoughtfully constructed grotesqueries. However, the scant implementation of the ideas driving the characters’ behaviour leaves INFINITY POOL like that hotel leisure showpiece; the lack of boundaries is an intricately and considerately engineered illusion. A look beneath its glistening surface and the safe confinement becomes all too apparent.