"Is this a dream? It would make more sense," sighs holidaymaker Em (Cleopatra Coleman) halfway through writer/director Brandon Cronenberg’s (Possessor) third feature. But in reality, the moral dilemma facing her and her novelist husband James (Alexander Skarsgård) is the stuff of nightmares: one that not only shakes their relationship to its very foundations, but gives ‘tourist trap’ a completely new meaning.
Set in a fictional nation called Li Tolqa, an island paradise for wealthy vacationers provided they don’t venture past their resorts’ barbed-wire fences, Infinity Pool takes the same setup as the recent Jessica Chastain/Ralph Fiennes film The Forgiven (western visitor kills local in road accident while on foreign soil) and proceeds to give it a delirious sci-fi twist.
Said calamity happens after James, bored by the opulence of his five-star hotel and needing inspiration for his long-delayed second book, rashly accepts an invitation from admiring actress Gabi (Pearl’s Mia Goth) and her architect husband Alban (Jalil Lespert) to take a drive with them down the coast. One unexpected handjob and a dead farmer later, he finds himself in the clutches of lawman Thresh (Thomas Kretschmann) and on the business end of a zero-tolerance death sentence.
Fortunately for him, Li Tolqa has a get-out clause for international travellers: a way for them to dodge punishment while still satisfying its strict tradition of retributive justice… To disclose more would spoil the surprises Cronenberg has in store for both James and the viewer: blindsides that not only maintain the family penchant for visceral body horror (see Cronenberg Sr’s Crimes of the Future), but also probe the ethical implications of crime without penalty. Suffice to say that James starts developing an appetite for hedonistic thrill-seeking, confident that another party will pay the price for his infractions.
From the rotating camera that spins this enclave on its axis to the freaky so-called ‘Ekki’ face masks that are available in its gift shop, Infinity Pool delights in finding fresh ways to disturb and nauseate the audience. You do start to wonder, though, if there’s anything more to it. One hallucinogenic orgy scene appears to have little function besides exploring the boundaries of what can be got away with.
There’s no questioning Skarsgård’s commitment to his character’s descent into depravity, while the gifted Goth is fearlessly uninhibited. But just because Infinity Pool looks good on the surface, that doesn’t mean it has hidden depths.
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