While Infinity Pool contains interesting ideas, the narrative is often jumbled and features silly performances from Skarsgård and Mia Goth.
Brandon Cronenberg will, unfortunately, always live under the shadow of his father, David Cronenberg. Even if he has made films in the past that have been truly phenomenal, like the criminally underseen Possessor, there will always be people who will say that Brandon, as ambitious and high-concept as his films are, will never be as good as David. Is this a fair criticism of his work? Of course not. David Cronenberg is one of the greatest genre filmmakers ever graced this earth, and his son is attempting to do his own thing. He’s interesting in his own right, and shouldn’t be compared to his father.
Sure, he makes similar stuff, but he’s not on the same technical and thematic level. Possessor was incredible, and anyone who paid attention to him eagerly awaited his next project, Infinity Pool, which has finally been released in theatres. Unfortunately, as much as Infinity Pool has a lot to say, its narrative is clunky and jumbles so many themes and ideas that the end result unfortunately falls flat.
The movie starts out in a rather promising fashion: Author James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård) and his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) are on vacation at a resort in a fictional town with high crime rates. At that resort, they meet Gabi (Mia Goth) and Alban (Jalil Lespert), two fans of James’ previous book, and have dinner together. The two couples go beyond the resort, even if it’s prohibited, and unfortunately get involved in a car accident that kills a citizen. The police arrests them a day later, with Detective Thresh (Thomas Kretschmann) explaining that the punishment for a crime like this is execution by a family member. However, by paying a considerable fee, a clone can be created and killed in James’ place. The author accepts, which causes him to develop a fascination with the town’s practices. He pretends to have lost his passport on his way back from the police station and extends his stay for another week.
From there, Infinity Pool stops becoming interesting and starts being a jumbled mess of torture porn, extreme violence, drug trips and elongated chases between James and Gabi, who starts to fall in love with him. At times, it’s intriguing. But more often than not, it’s silly and poorly written. We understand that the “click” occurs when James watches a clone of himself getting brutally killed, and that his fascination stems from there. A movie like this should slowly convey his descent into madness in a visually enticing and unflinching way. But there are no scenes in which Cronenberg does it effectively, or at least does it in a way that pulls the audience further into the plot.
I was 100% on board when Kretschmann brilliantly delivered an exposition on the cloning process, with the movie brilliantly cutting to how James gets cloned in a riveting, albeit photosensitive, fashion. Kretschmann is hands-down the best part of the movie. I’ve always enjoyed his screen presence in anything, but he’s truly a master of his craft. There’s a lot he says through the way he looks at James, and even if he appears polite, you know that something is brewing inside of him. One of the most interesting aspects of the movie, which has been raised by one of its side characters, is the idea that a clone replaced James and his real self was killed instead. Since the clone is lifelike, you’ll never know. That could’ve been the core tenet the rest of the film could touch upon, but it never circles back to that idea and instead overcomplicates its plot with more clones, and more sensationalism that provides little to no reward near the end.
I won’t spoil what happens (I’ll leave you to discover it on your own), but the ending felt completely unrewarding and devoid of any emotional buildup that the film’s unimpressive climax occurred. It doesn’t help that its lead actors give poor performances, with Goth being the worst of its ensemble. Skarsgård looks particularly bored, notably in scenes that require lots of physical tension. His expressions are one-note and emotionless and don’t fit the tone that Cronenberg tries to assemble with the incredible sounds of Tim Hecker, who provides a good atmospheric soundtrack for the film.
Many great ideas on cloning, how the wealthy will go above and beyond in protecting themselves before the middle class and the poor get what they have (which feel more prescient than ever before in the era of #DavosSafe), never get brushed off past surface-level observations. Because of this, Infinity Pool fails to enthrall minus a plethora of scenes that are sure to get many “this is the most disturbing horror film of 2023 so far” written. I’ll say this: I’ve seen worse. Violent? Sure. Excessive? Sure. Compelling? Absolutely not.
Infinity Pool is now available to watch in US theaters. The film will have its European premiere at the Berlin Film Festival in February.