Not every horror film has something thoughtful to say. Infinity Pool is one such film. Written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg, Infinity Pool boasts enticing performances by Mia Goth and Alexander Skarsgård, but one can’t help but wonder about the film’s superficiality despite its off-the-wall depravity. It’s meant to shock and disgust — and it does — but while Infinity Pool starts off interestingly enough, its take on power, corruption, and privilege only goes so far.
James Foster (Skarsgård) is vacationing with his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) at a resort on the fictitious island of La Tolqa. James is a writer who hasn’t published in six years and is struggling to find inspiration on his trip. His marriage to Em, a publishing heiress who supports James financially, is not exactly happy, but everything changes when James meets Gabi (Pearl and X star Mia Goth), a self-proclaimed fan of his book, and her husband Alban (Jalil Lespert). The couple encourages James and Em to join them for a night outside the resort, despite the fact that they’re not allowed beyond its wired gates. When James hits one of the locals with his car, he must answer for his crimes — or, pay a sum to the police to clone him so that his double will die in his place. As one can imagine, things get all the more interesting after that.
Infinity Pool is all about style over substance. Cronenberg doesn’t seem very invested in anything else. To be sure, the vibes are certainly there, and one can get onboard with the depraved characters, especially as everything gets all the more twisted over the course of the film. But there is also an emptiness to the story. The film asks intriguing questions, broaching themes of morality and wealth, as well as what it means when death and consequences are no longer an obstacle, but it’s hollow and limited in its scope. The intention is clear, the execution is underwhelming.
Perhaps the most engrossing aspect of the film is Skarsgård’s character, who can’t really seem to find his footing and sees himself as a failure. James carries himself in a way that asserts he feels small and weak. Joining Gabi’s group, the only people who understand what he’s going through, is a way for him to feel empowered — at least for a while. But once things get out of hand (really wild and disturbing stuff happens on the island), James is back to feeling even worse about everything and himself.
However, Cronenberg is only half-interested in exploring James fully. Most of the characters are underdeveloped and underutilized. That said, Skarsgård and Goth give their all to their characters. They’re engaging and willing to lean into the wild and unexpected. Their performances are thrilling. Skarsgård doesn’t aim to charm, and he’s believable as a failed writer who questions his talent. Goth, meanwhile, continues to prove that she can easily shift between sweet and chaotic. She’s magnetic to watch.
The film is more intent on the body horror and debauchery of it all, not even taking the time to explore the fictitious island that serves as the story’s setting, leaving things vague enough so that the characters are free to do what they want. The film goes all out in other respects. There is gore, the violence takes on a disturbing sense of glee that makes Infinity Pool all the more unnerving to watch, and the body horror is intense. It’s like being on a roller coaster ride that veers off its track.
There is a certain thrill that runs through Infinity Pool, mainly because viewers will be wondering what weird, deranged thing will happen next. In that regard, the film succeeds despite being underwhelming elsewhere. Unfortunately, the story is messy and the lack of cohesion impacts its execution. It happily embraces its weirdness though, and if viewers are willing to go along for the ride, then it might prove to be somewhat engaging.
More: Past Lives Review: Celine Song’s Debut Is Soulful, Tender, Devastating [Sundance]
Infinity Pool premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival January 21. The film is 117 minutes long and rated R for graphic violence, disturbing material, strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and some language. It will be released in theaters Friday, January 27.