Infinity pools are built as optical illusions where the water seemingly has no limits, slipping into nothingness, bleeding into the horizon. There could be no better title for the latest horror film about Brandon Cronenberg’s identity crisis as a body, “Infinity Pool,” which comes on the heels of 2020’s “Possessor.” Set at a high-end all-inclusive resort in the country Fictionalized by Li Tolqa (it was filmed on location in Croatia and Hungary), “Infinity Pool” is more sweeping than its predecessor, the narrative grander, sharper, funnier, and more wickedly wicked.
It is about “Eyes Wide Shut” by Cronenberg as “The White Lotus”; it’s in conversation with “Triangle of Sadness,” but it also seems to be a deeply personal film about an artist confronting his own insecurities and finding a kind of transformation into pure abandon and submission. It’s a scathing satire on wealth, an inspection of the power dynamics inherent in colonial tourism, and an indictment of the bad behavior that money not only enables, but engenders. But most of all, it cements Cronenberg as one of our biggest movie fans, just like his father, the great David Cronenberg. In regards to that relationship, “Infinity Pool” is also plagued by anxieties about being an artist with family connections in the industry.
The propulsive narrative and dizzying, off-kilter camerawork by cinematographer Karim Hussain combine to create the sensation of being sucked into a surreal whirlpool, entering a world that is off-balance, almost tilting, as if we were on a ship. The cool color palette negates the beauty of the location, and all the compositions are listed on the left. The close-ups are extreme, and the shallow depth of field causes Hussain to constantly switch focus between characters, underscoring the dissonance between our protagonist and his wife.
Alexander Skarsgård plays James Foster, a writer with an inferiority complex. Having published a novel, he’s on vacation with his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman), the publisher’s daughter, looking for something to combat his writer’s block. Inspiration, or something like it, enters his life in the form of Gabi (Mia Goth), a fan of his book, he claims, and soon James and Em are dining, dancing and escaping the heavily fortified resort complex for a picnic in the beach. with Gabi and her husband Alban (Jalil Lespert).
As James drunkenly cruises his illegally rented convertible back to the resort, his headlights fail and he strikes and kills a local farmer, triggering his descent into the unique and dystopian legal process of impoverished, religious and conservative Li Tolqa. He is sentenced to die for the hit and run of him, ordered to be executed by the young son of man. But for a hefty fee, the police can create a “double” of him, or a clone, for them to kill. The only catch? He has to watch.
Choosing the double seems like the only option, but it’s the one that sends James spiraling down a rabbit hole, falling in with the crowd of Gabi and Alban, all of whom have been duplicated before, escaping responsibility and consequences with his money. The new lease on life spurs them to act, taking as much hedonistic pleasure from a home invasion as they do from a drug-fuelled orgy.
At the center of this kaleidoscopic wormhole of dangerously dark delight is Gabi, played by reigning scream queen Mia Goth (“X,” “Pearl”), who is as fierce and fearless as she is funny. Gabi transforms from fawning fangirl to seductive sexpot to sadistic prankster and bully, dominating and humiliating hapless himbo James with delight and her distinctive siren shriek. She’s the kind of performance only Goth could pull off, intentionally cheesy but so completely committed that she becomes terrifying.
This feels like a quintessential follow-up to a breakthrough film: a project about writer’s block, horribly rich people, and losing one’s identity over and over again, only finding peace by submitting to powerful forces beyond one’s control. It doesn’t seem to matter if James is a good writer, and it’s unclear if he’ll find himself again, but Cronenberg has fun spilling blood and bodily fluids on the problem and seeing how far he can push the boundaries. If you’re willing to surf the wonderfully weird and wild wavelength of “Infinity Pool,” it’s certainly a singular and unforgettable ride.
Katie Walsh is a film critic for Tribune News Service.