Even the worst vacation you’ve ever had — screaming kids, delayed flights, cruise ship food poisoning — has nothing on Infinity Pool, the latest from director Brandon Cronenberg (son of body horror master David Cronenberg). What starts as an escape to a picturesque resort swiftly turns into a bizarre and gruesome game of violence and brutality, with a little existential horror thrown in for good measure. Infinity Pool doesn’t fully explore the elements that kick off its high-concept premise, but it’s worth it to watch two talented actors absolutely lose their shit.
The film takes place in the fictional country of Li Tolqa, where James (Alexander Skarsgård) and his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) are taking an all-inclusive vacation at a peaceful resort. James is in search of inspiration: his debut book came out six years ago, promptly flopped, and he’s struggling with the follow-up, only able to survive because Em’s family owns a sprawling publishing empire. Eventually, the couple meets Gabi (Mia Goth), one of the book’s rare and elusive fans, and her partner, Alban (Jalil Lespert), and start hanging out.
Central to the story is the country itself. While wealthy Western tourists hang out on fancy expensive beaches, the rest of Li Tolqa is a poor, superstitious, and extremely conservative country. Tourists aren’t even supposed to leave the resort, which is surrounded by an intimidating fence complete with armed guards. So when the two couples sneak out to go to a local beach for a picnic, things ultimately turn bad following a car accident.
James finds himself convicted of a crime in a country where the penalty is execution — but with a twist for the very rich. Criminals are able to pay an exorbitant amount of cash to be cloned and then forced to witness their double being executed instead of them. It’s kind of like a Get Out of Jail Free card, except your poor clone still has all of your memories when they’re being stabbed to death. You even get to keep their ashes. Rather than a punishment, though, for some people, this process of seeing themselves die awakens something dark deep inside of them. James finds himself pulled into a group of these sickos, led by Gabi, who treat Li Tolqa like a hedonistic getaway, where they are essentially invincible and able to do whatever they want because they can pay their way out of it.
Infinity Pool raises some interesting questions about existence, as James and his cohort briefly contemplate what it means to have a clone with all of the same memories. But that doesn’t last long. Mostly, they use the legal loophole as an excuse to do whatever they want, coming up with twisted “games” full of brutal violence to make their vacation more exciting. They get caught, watch themselves die, and do it all over again. (It’s a kind of death loop, if you will.) The film is primarily a chronicle of James’ descent into madness through surreal montages of orgies and murder.
Ultimately, there isn’t much to the existential side of the story, and the film also breezes past its thread of wealthy, mostly white tourists turning a foreign country into a hedonistic playground. These elements are part of the initial setup and are quickly forgotten, so don’t go in expecting something like a horror version of The White Lotus that explores colonial tourism. But Infinity Pool still works as a strange and unsettling exploration of the depths of depravity the tourists sink to, thanks to a combination of Cronenberg’s shocking imagery — this is definitely not for the squeamish, with lots of close-ups of brutal violence and, uh, morphing genitals — and the performances of Skarsgård and Goth.
Skarsgård really embodies the premise. He starts out as clean-cut and clearheaded, but the seduction of power and violence turns him into something completely different by the end. At times, he’s a hulking brute fueled by a local drug, and other times he’s a drooling mess led around like a horrible puppy. Goth, meanwhile, continues to be one of the preeminent faces of modern horror, following up her turn in Pearl with another stunner — controlling events with a calm sort of charm that’s almost mesmerizing. When she does finally let loose, it is absolutely terrifying.
As an intellectual exercise, Infinity Pool is disappointing — but as a strange and uncomfortable ride through (an all-inclusive) hell, it definitely works. And it will make your next hotel breakfast buffet seem not so bad after all.
This review is based on a screening at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Infinity Pool is in theaters on January 27th.