A lot of people are going to write off Brandon Cronenberg’s latest sci-fi horror Infinity Pool as a disappointing follow-up to Possessor, when it’s really just an ill-timed one. Cronenberg wrote Infinity Pool during the years-long lull between his debut feature Antiviral and his COVID-era breakout Possessor, and it’s only the industrial happenstance of production scheduling that determined which of his second & third projects reached the screen first. You can feel the frustration of his stop-and-start project developments seeping through the text. Alexander Skarsgård stars as a hack novelist whose privileged familial connections have kept him afloat in the six years since his debut work was critically skewered then forgotten, which positions him as a kind of self-satirical avatar for Cronenberg as a nepo-baby auteur on a long, winding road to acclaim. It doesn’t make much sense for the director to quickly follow up his greatest success to date with a Charlie Kaufmann-style writer’s block thriller—wherein a frustrated creative gets themselves into exponential cosmic trouble simply because they cannot produce—but Cronenberg doesn’t have control over which of his scripts are greenlit when, so that out-of-sync feeling is totally forgivable in context. That’s not what makes the film ill-timed; it’s how similar his Skarsgård avatar’s cosmic trouble is to other recent films & television programs that partially dulls Infinity Pool‘s sharpest edges.
While vacationing with his benefactor wife (Cleopatra Coleman) at an Eastern European luxury resort in a futile search for creative inspo, James Foster (Skarsgård) is recruited into an informal crime ring of ultra-wealthy hedonists, led by a hothead babe with a babydoll London accent (Mia Goth). These international elites have discovered a nifty loophole that allows them to get away with murdering & pillaging the impoverished locals outside the resort, suffering no consequences for their crimes outside frequent trips to the ATM for stacks of bribe money. As a diplomatic, bureaucratic measure, the local government has developed technology to clone the wealthy tourists and have their doubles suffer the consequences instead, only requiring that the wanton criminals watch justice be served in increasingly ultraviolent geek shows. The transgression of watching their own deaths proves addictive, and their crimes only become more pointless & brazen so they can return to the executioners’ theatre. James’s major mistake is assuming that he is accepted among the group as an equal, but since he married into wealth instead of “earning” it himself, his new clique treats him as just another plaything – pushing him to indulge in grotesque, humiliating acts for their amusement. On some psychosexual sublevel, he appears to enjoy this social torture, or he’s at least reluctant to put a stop to it.
I doubt Cronenberg would have timed the distribution of Infinity Pool to January 2023 if he knew how many thematic parallels it would find on the current pop culture landscape. After seeing Glass Onion, The Menu, Triangle of Sadness, and season two of White Lotus all become pop culture talking points in such a short stretch, it’s probably time to pump the brakes on skewering the ultra-wealthy for using other people’s lives as a consequence-free playground for a while. That said, I’ve enjoyed most of those tee-ball satires for their individual doses of class-politics catharsis and, although a late addition to the collection, Infinity Pool is the one that most directly panders to my fucked-up tastes. You cannot pack the frame with this many strobe lights, gore gags, hallucinatory orgies, and creepy masks without me walking away smiling. Letting Mia Goth loose to terrorize Skarsgård as a crazed domme armed with fried chicken & a handgun instead of leather whips & cuffs is also a brilliant move, as she greedily devours scenery with vicious, delirious abandon. Among all its “Eat the Rich” classmates of 2022, Infinity Pool most reminded me of Triangle of Sadness, mostly for how far it pushes its onscreen depravity for darkly comedic, cathartic release – careful to put every possible substance the human body can discharge on full, loving display (except maybe for feces, which might be included in the NC-17 cut; can’t be sure). Plenty audiences are likely to be turned off by both works for their disregard for subtlety & restraint, but that’s exactly what makes them great.
This film’s poor timing in distribution shouldn’t discount its of-the-moment merits. Extratextual concerns aside, it’s very funny, upsetting, and reluctant to be neatly categorized or understood (despite its wealth of easy comparison points). I suspect it will age well, even by time its “Unrated” cut hits VOD in the coming months, since distance from our recent wealth of anti-wealth satires can only do it favors. It also seems like Cronenberg got to work out something ugly & pathetic he wanted to exorcize from his own psyche here (often through outright self-mockery), which is the exact kind of weirdo personal touch I’m always looking for in art.