INFINITY POOL (2023), the new horror movie from writer/director Brandon Cronenberg, the son of David Cronenberg, is reminiscent of the works of the elder Cronenberg. It feels like a movie written and directed by David Cronenberg.
It’s a disturbing horror movie, the type that will have you feeling uncomfortable and on edge throughout. So, for my horror friends who hold this criterion as the gold standard for horror movies, they will no doubt really enjoy INFINITY POOL. While I’m totally okay with a movie that is disturbing, I am a story guy, and so if a film struggles with its story, usually it’s not going to work for me. The story told in INFINITY POOL is intriguing to be sure, at least at first, but as it goes along, it becomes far less interesting.
The main reason I wanted to see INFINITY POOL wasn’t because of Brandon Cronenberg, but because the film starred Mia Goth, one of my favorite actresses working today, especially actresses in horror movies. Goth has made her mark in such horror films as A CURE FOR WELLNESS (2016), X (2022), and its prequel PEARL (2022). While the story in INFINITY POOL may not have completely worked for me, Mia Goth is once again phenomenal in this movie. The best part about Goth in these horror films is that she’s no scream queen. She’s the one making others scream. Which is really, really cool. And scary!
INFINITY POOL with its ability to disturb and disgust also reminded me a little bit of the movie MIDSOMMAR (2019), in that it tells a story about people dealing with horrors in a foreign land with people they don’t quite understand, and that it’s a slow burn of a descent for the main character. I enjoyed MIDSOMMAR more, as it had a tighter story, but the two films share a similar vibe, even though INFINITY POOL is less of a slow burn and more of a methodical journey into pain and despair.
In INFINITY POOL, struggling author James Foster (Alexander Skarsgard) and his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) are vacationing on a faraway island in the hopes that the time away will help James beat back his writer’s block. While there, James is approached by a young woman, Gabi (Mia Goth) who introduces herself as a fan of his first book. She invites James and Em to join her and her husband, Alban (Jalil Lespert) for dinner that evening. Dinner goes well, and Gabi and Alban next invite James and Em to join them for a ride to a secluded spot on the island. This is problematic because the island is extremely dangerous with a high crime rate against tourists, and so the resort forbids its guests to leave the premises. Em wants no part of this excursion, but James says he trusts the couple and convinces Em to take the trip.
Should have listened to your wife, James.
On the drive back, with James behind the wheel, they inadvertently strike and kill a man crossing the road. Em wants to call the police, but Gabi warns them that the police are corrupt, and if the law is called, the four of them will be arrested, the women raped, and they all will die. Gabi tells them to get back inside the car and that she and Alban will deal with everything in the morning. This plot point reminded me of a similar one in the movie THE FORGIVEN (2021), a much better movie by the way, where the same thing happens to characters played by Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain. The events in THE FORGIVEN took a much more realistic and believable path than the one taken here in INFINITY POOL.
Anyway, the next day James and Em are arrested and separated in a police jail. James is informed that the penalty for what he did is death, but…and here comes the big plot point— the government on the island isn’t interested in executing tourists, but to keep the locals in line, the perception of the execution must be kept. So… on this island they have perfected the ability to create “imposters,” beings who look exactly like the convicted criminal, and then that person is executed. All of this of course comes at a high monetary cost, which is why the government does it. And one more thing. James and Em must watch the execution. Of course, panicked, alone, and afraid, James agrees.
After the execution, Em wants to leave the island as quickly as possible, but James can’t find his passport, and Gabi explains that if James joins her and her friends again, they will help him find his passport, which they believe the police have taken. James agrees.
So far, the plot has been genuinely intriguing, and it’s around this point that James learns from Gabi and her friends that they are free to do whatever they want on the island, commit whatever crime, regardless of how violent, because they know they will not be executed. As long as they have money to pay the government, they are home free. Someone else will be executed instead… hence, the infinity pool. And it’s here where the film sort of becomes a GROUNDHOG DAY for horror movies.
It’s also here where I started to lose interest. When Em learns about this, she is horrified, but strangely, James is not. The point here that the film seems to be making is that James would rather be with Gabi and her friends than his wife, who the film implies is kinda part of the reason he’s experiencing writer’s block. This decision is all well and good for James, but as things continue, I cared less and less about the character. I stopped being interested in going along for the ride with him, mostly because each crime leads to more pain and horror at his expense at the hands of Gabi and her friends. The story just becomes an exercise in how much misery can one man take yet still somehow be open for more of the same.
There’s one point where the question is raised about the possibility that the imposter replaces the original person, and it’s the original person who is executed, because the imposter also receives the original person’s memories. But as one character points out, since you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, why does it even matter? This compelling plot point is touched upon only briefly and then sadly dismissed outright.
The result is that the second half of INFINITY POOL is much less compelling than its first half.
The best part of INFINITY POOL is for me Mia Goth. She’s terrific once again, and she makes Gabi quite the frightening woman. Gabi is the scariest part of this movie, mostly because she is a temptress, possessing the ability to convince James to trust her and pretty much do anything she wants him to do, and all of it is for her own satisfaction, with nothing at all to benefit him.
Alexander Skarsgard is also very good as James, although it ends up being a rather thankless role. The character becomes little more than a punching bag for Gabi and her buddies. He’s beaten to a pulp both literally and figuratively by film’s end. Which is another reason the second half of the film didn’t work as well for me. It was no fun watching a character get beat upon relentlessly and repeatedly. Even the fact that James chooses this fate doesn’t help. He purposely chooses to distance himself from his wife, which I get, but on the flip side, to keep agreeing with what Gabi was offering was frustrating to watch.
I can’t say I was a huge fan of the script by Brandon Cronenberg. It takes a rather clever concept and by film’s end doesn’t do a whole lot with it other than put its main character through hell. Cronenberg scores higher here as a director. The film works visually. Early on, you really get the feeling that these folks are in jeopardy in a foreign land. The sense of isolation, especially during the early scenes in the police jail, is palpable.
Later, when things get trippy, when Gabi introduces James to some island drugs, the film becomes appropriately dreamlike and nightmarish. There’s one sensual sequence in particular that is very effective, where Gabi and James start kissing, and an entire orgy seems to follow although one can’t quite tell what is real and what is imagined. Visually, I really enjoyed INFINITY POOL. The movie also scores highly for its ability to instill a sense of dread, foreboding, and disgust to its viewers. But its story doesn’t hold up all that well, nor does it go in a direction which takes full advantage of the possibilities it offers at the beginning.
INFINITY POOL for me therefore is a mixed bag.
I give it two and a half stars.
Four stars- Excellent
Three stars- Very Good
Two stars- Fair
One star- Poor
Zero Stars- Awful