There’s no feeling quite as delicious as the anticipation of seeing a film that’s divided audiences. Never is there a better chance to make your mark, to be a freethinker by deciding exactly where you stand. You can walk into a movie theater, politely ask whoever is sitting in the seat you reserved to move, have a theater attendant ask them to move, and then plant yourself firmly in the comforts of the dark with no expectations.
Infinity Pool may be your first chance to experience such a unique pleasure in 2023. The film dropped into theaters last week after premiering out of Sundance earlier this month, where it proved divisive among both general audiences and critics. And if you’ve seen the film, you probably understand why, given what happens in its final 10 minutes.
Some hated it, others adored it. No surprise there, really. Infinity Pool is the third feature-length film from Brandon Cronenberg, son of infamous body-horror auteur David Cronenberg, the deviant mind behind some of the most well-known and well-respected horror-thrillers of the last three decades like The Fly, Videodrome, Crash, and last year’s Crimes of the Future.
Brandon Cronenberg has followed in the sicko steps of his father, crafting tight shockers like 2020’s Possessor (where was Andrea Riseborough’s grassroots Oscar campaign for that, hmm?). But though both father and son enjoy exploring themes through similar stylistic avenues, their work is distinctly their own. Brandon Cronenberg’s films tend to be more accessible to audiences. His work combines his father’s perverse cinematic sensibilities with a less narrow entry point for consumption. And the same is true with Infinity Pool.
The film stars Alexander Skarsgard as James Foster, a novelist who has traveled with his wife, Em (Cleopatra Coleman), to a remote resort in the fictional country of Li Tolqa. James has come to Li Tolqa looking for inspiration for his next book, after his first was largely panned by critics. But at the resort, James and Em meet another couple, Gabi (Mia Goth) and Alban (Jalil Lespert), who know and love James’ work. After a chatty dinner together, Gabi and Alban invite the other couple out for a day at the beach, where all four parties get drunk and a bit sloppy. On the way back to the resort, James hits a pedestrian in the middle of the road and flees the scene of the accident, leaving the dead body splayed on the pavement.
[Major spoilers for Infinity Pool follow!]
After the hit-and-run, the group is brought in by the police. Once in custody, James finds out that the punishment for murder in Li Tolqa has an unexpected cost: James must be executed, or pay a steep sum to have his body doubled—with his doppelganger attaining James’ own memories—so the family of the deceased can kill a version of James themselves. Like any person with the funds to do so, James chooses to preserve his own life and bear witness to the bloody execution of his carbon copy.
And if you thought that was wacky, you probably haven’t seen too many films from the Cronenberg dynasty.
Watching your own murder would be a mindfuck for anybody, but James begins to go off the deep end once Gabi and Alban continue to pursue him after the execution. Gabi reveals that she and Alban have also been doubled after an accidental murder on the island years prior, and they’ve been visiting the country ever since to form a collective of similar individuals. James is simultaneously perturbed and comforted by this revelation, as he’s lured into the group of ultra-rich criminals for more bloody debauchery.
Unable to comprehend the horrors she’s seen, Em gets out of Li Tolqa and leaves James to his own devices, losing sight of his true self in the company of the other miscreants. He realizes that he’s played both his career and entire life too safely, which he believes was the reason for his novel’s lack of success. In Gabi, he’s found a thread of the inspiration he came to Li Tolqa looking for. But once he gives that thread even just the slightest pull, it unravels at an alarming pace.
Gabi and Alban kidnap the detective that prosecuted their hit-and-run, encouraging James to beat the detective senselessly with a bag over his head. James reduces the body to a bloody pulp and removes the bag, discovering that Gabi has commissioned a second double of James. Paralyzed by the sudden gravity of all of his choices, James flees and tries to escape the island.
But Gabi came to Li Tolqa for a vacation, and she refuses to leave without saying goodbye to the plaything she’s been toying with for days. I don’t want to give too much away about the sequences that lead up to the film’s blistering ending, but Mia Goth has the absolute time of her life. If you thought she was fantastic in 2022’s X and Pearl, you will devour her most sinister work yet. This includes, but is not limited to, waving a gun in one hand and holding a bottle of wine in the other, calling out “Jamessssyyyy!” like she’s calling to her lost puppy.
In some ways, she is. Infinity Pool’s final 15 minutes find James trapped on a Li Tolqan farm, surrounded by the gang that has been dallying with him over the past week. Gabi brings forth James’ badly beaten second double on a leather dog leash, insisting that the two fight to the death to decide who will be released back into the world as the real James. The original James musters the last of his remaining strength and kills his counterpart. Defeated, dejected, and despondent—with his own blood on his hands—James settles into Gabi’s comforting embrace. To our shock and awe, Gabi removes her breasts from her shirt, slathers them in James’ blood, and begins to breastfeed her prize.
The sight is shocking, of course. Despite knowing what I was getting into with a Cronenberg film, the last thing I expected to come away from Infinity Pool seeing was Alexander Skarsgard suckling Mia Goth’s teet. The camera doesn’t shy away from the shot either: It holds steady on the act for just enough time to make viewers digest their discomfort and begin to think about what the spectacle means within the film’s larger context.
Infinity Pool relishes swimming in the deep end of dark desire. Cronenberg has a whole lot of sadistic fun dissecting how wealthy Westerners use “exotic” countries as their playgrounds, running around like children to work out their base-level desires. James latching onto Gabi’s breast is not just a primal instinct; it’s the only way he can begin to exorcise the mommy issues and lack of conviction that brought him to Li Tolqa in the first place. James lies there, both half-dead and reborn in Gabi’s endless cycle of destruction, unable to do anything other than feed on her egomaniacal evil. Now, it’s up to James to decide whether or not to break the loop.