“Infinity Pool” is a violent, hallucinatory thriller that puts the viewer, like its protagonist, in a pretty ugly head space. It’s unpleasant, gory and occasionally troubling, so of course Mia Goth co-stars in it. That’s become her brand.
It wallows in the impossible and skirts past it hoping we don’t notice. It’s demanding and disturbing in that “Eyes Wide Shut” way, a swipe at the class divide about a creative-type who must murder his ego by relentlessly, repeatedly surrendering to his Id.
But for a movie with “Pool” in the title, for a film by a Canadian nepo baby named Cronenberg, it invites the easy put-down “shallow.” Every strobing blur of Brandon-son-of-David Cronenberg’s edits and best efforts never quite obscure that the end doesn’t justify the gory, indulgent psychosis of the means.
Alexander Skarsgård, an actor who never shies away from risky, gimmicky fare, plays James Foster, a writer with one book behind him and nothing promising on the horizon. So naturally, a get-away to an exclusive resort in a fictional, backward and poor Adriatic state (it was filmed in Croatia) is his idea of searching for “inspiration.”
Then again, that’s probably his wife’s suggestion. Em (Cleopatra Colman) is lovely, loving and to the manner born. The first couple they meet for dinner at this Pa QLQA resort includes a British “fan” (Goth) of James’ book, and her nosy, much-older Swiss husband (Jalil Lespert). He’s tactlessly rich enough to ask how they get by, with one little known novel on the balance sheet.
“He married money,” Em jokes, going on to overshare the “daddy issues” that contributed to her keeping James in comfort.
In classic “trap” thriller fashion, their new “friends” lure them into “breaking the rules,” leaving resort property in a dangerous and and backward ex-Eastern Bloc state. One convertible drive up the coast –1970 vintage American land-yacht Cadillacs, Pontiacs and Chevys are the local status symbol — a dip in the water, a beachside cookout and a lot of drinking later, and James runs over a local on the drive back to the hotel.
It doesn’t matter that the car’s electrical system went out, right on queue, that James was suspiciously easy to lure into driving or that their new “friends” insist they not call the cops or help the dying man lying in the road. We may wonder “Set up?” James, and the movie never do.
Thus begins his plunge into La Tolqa’s version of Hell — arrest, coerced by the stern cop (Thomas Kretschmann) into confessing, and offered an “out.”
This backward, half-ruined half-failed state has a means of cloning, a magical immersion in red and blue goo that produces another James that the locals can have their “blood for blood” revenge upon in a ritualized execution to be carried out by someone from the victim’s family.
There’s an ATM at the seedy police station so that you can cover the cost. All James, Em, Gabby (Goth) and Albin (Lespert) have to do is be there to witness this “version” of James — whom Det. Tresh lets slip might “have your memories,” too — stabbed to death.
And that isn’t the end of it. It’s merely the beginning, as James finds himself goaded into drinking binges with Gabby and Albin’s circle of ex-pats, the idle rich given to murderous pranks against the local “animals” of this “not civilized” state, their every misdeed easily rectified by another visit to the ATM and another “doubling.”
With his third film, after “Possessor” and “Antiviral,” Young Cronenberg firmly establishes himself in the family business, movies of a perverse and unsettling mind-and-body-under-threat and violated by science and society that was his father’s pre-“History of Violence” calling card.
The shocks — drunken montages of murderous and carnal abandon, gooey, intertwined and ugly — are entirely the point. Whether they make sense, illuminate the human condition or “entertain” is almost immaterial.
Goth adds a British accent to her deranged repertoire, and is as convincing as this entitled, consequence-free dominatrix as she was as a Texas teen tart ready for porn, and payback, in “X” and “Pearl.” There’s no getting around that she’s good, no escaping the reputation she’s acquired as “uninhibited.”
Others may find her psychotic, nude and take-charge sexual turns titillating. She’s yet to play a character who didn’t make me cringe, which is saying something. Her best moment here is demonstrating Gabby’s line of work, a TV commercial actress/model whose specialty is “failing naturally.” She’s great at pretending she can’t do the simplest daily activities without the aid of whatever new household gadget she’s pitching.
Cronenberg so perfectly mimics his father’s cerebral horror shtick that he jumps right into the obscure cul de sacs that some of David Cronenberg’s films wandered into, which I had similar reactions to.
Brandon Cronenberg is like a painter handed the building blocks of the film form — the blood, urine, semen, psychosis and adventurous-minded movie stars — but who leaps strait into impressionism without mastering the storytelling basics.
The shocks of “Infinity Pool” feel unearned, the ordeal of the experience unrewarding and the themes — here’s that pun again — shallow.
Rating: R, graphic violence, explicit sex, alcohol abuse, nudity, profanity
Cast: Alexander Skarsgård, Mia Goth, Cleopatra Colman, Thomas Kretschmann, Jalil Lespert and John Ralston.
Credits: Scripted and directed by Brandon Cronenberg. A Neon release.
Running time: 1:57