Infinity Pool (2023)
Written & Directed by Brandon Cronenberg
Is a fine a proper punishment for people with near-endless disposable cash? There are growing arguments against the death penalty, which are good, but there’s not enough conversation about the fundamental nature of carceral punishment. The presence of a fine allows the wealthy to act above the law, as these fines are often not substantial enough to harm their finances. On the other hand, a working-class or poor person can be left on the verge of destitution if a heavy fine is levied against them. Should there be a more intense punishment system for the wealthy than for the working class & poor? I am not opposed to that idea. Brandon Cronenberg has been thinking about this and his new film Infinity Pool. If it does this well… that’s a different thing altogether.
James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård) wrote one novel and has been stumbling through life ever since. He married Em (Cleopatra Coleman), whose family’s wealth has kept him afloat. The couple is vacationing in the fictional island nation of Li Tolqa where the dry season is coming to an end and the rainy season is on its way. James & Em meet Gabi (Mia Goth) and her husband, with Gabi proclaiming she is a massive fan of James’ novel. They invite James & Em to join them on an excursion outside the resort, which is legally forbidden. The day starts out fine, but Gabi becomes sexually aggressive toward James when Em is not present. After night falls, the two couples head back to the resort, James in the driver’s seat and drunk when they hit a local. They leave the body and get back into the resort only to have Li Tolqan police, where the film takes a more fantastical turn.
The Li Tolqans assign the death penalty to most crimes, particularly murder. That execution is carried out by the eldest male heir to the victim, in the case of James’ hit & run victim it is a nine-year-old boy. However, for a hefty price, you can have your execution performed on a clone of yourself that has all of your memories and believes it is you. James agrees, a bit unsure of what it means, and is made to watch this little boy brutally stab a version of himself to death. He quickly learns Gabi, her husband, and others have been through this and hold it as a badge of honor. Unfortunately, it has caused them to become drunk on the power of their wealth, living with no accountability for their crimes in this place.
The premise of Infinity Pool is brilliant; I just wish its execution was as good. The only Brandon Cronenberg film I have seen aside from this one is Possessor, and I quite liked it. That film handled its fantastic concepts and dark themes well and was emotionally powerful. Infinity Pool didn’t come anywhere close to that. Cronenberg doesn’t know what to do with his cloning execution concept as soon as he introduces it. We have the group of privileged people benefitting from the loophole, but even then, they just sort of fuck around and do not do anything spectacularly interesting with that idea, either. The director wanted to satirize a behavior he’s seen but failed to articulate exactly what he wanted to say.
Alexander Skarsgård is pretty dull here, he’s playing a character with little going on, and he’s meant to be aimless. But that doesn’t make him compelling, and even how he reacts to the cloning idea is pretty uninteresting. Mia Goth made me hope this would improve, but I was shocked at how bad many of her scenes are. I don’t hold it against Goth, but more Cronenberg. Goth’s Gabi is a character we didn’t see in Possessor, and I’m not sure the writer-director knew what to do with her. Some of her outbursts are incredibly embarrassing, and the dialogue does not hit when spoken out loud.
Like Possessor, there are several hallucinatory sequences. These trippy moments are some of the better parts of Infinity Pool, and that’s not a good thing. These scenes don’t serve the plot in any meaningful way, just emphasizing the disorientation of the main character. Unfortunately, Cronenberg feels comfortable about these music video-like scenes over his protagonist.
My complaints with Infinity Pool are the same that I level at many Western movies these days: they are technically strong but narratively shallow. I want to see a satire about wealth through a horror lens, and the studios keep trying only to give us things like Infinity Pool and The Menu. The Menu is better than this, but only by a little. So much energy is spent on the movie’s hook that the characters are painted in the broadest strokes. When bad things happen to them, I don’t care or even delight in watching them suffer. It all feels like such a chore.