The Movie Waffler New to VOD - INFINITY POOL | The Movie Waffler


A struggling writer is sucked into a sociopathic world while vacationing at an exclusive resort.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Brandon Cronenberg

Starring: Alexander Skarsgård, Mia Goth, Cleopatra Coleman, Jalil Lespert, Thomas Kretschmann

Infinity Pool poster

Have there ever been so many beneficiaries of nepotism working in the film industry? It seems like every other actor is now the spawn of an influential parent. Ignoring the ethics of this, it's a situation that's gifted us with some talented performers. Rebecca Hall, Lea Seydoux and Zoe Kravitz, to name just a few, may not have gotten their start in movies were it not for the power wielded by their families, and cinema would be worse off for it. Would Brandon Cronenberg be delivering his third movie as writer/director if his father was a plumber rather than an acclaimed auteur? Possibly not, and in Cronenberg's case it's hard to imagine him making the movies he has if he was anyone else's son, so similar are they in their themes and aesthetic to the work of his old man.

Those who have benefitted from nepotism rarely address their privilege, and it's not something interviewers are likely to bring up. But you have to wonder if it's something they wrestle with? I was trying to think of filmmakers that have explored this theme in their work, and the only example that springs to mind is 1931's La Chienne. Directed by Jean Renoir, who likely wouldn't have had his career if he hadn't been the son of one of France's most acclaimed artists, the film is about an aspiring painter who meets a young prostitute who claims to adore his work. His ego is continually massaged until it's revealed that he's been cruelly played for a fool. Renoir seems to use the film to wrestle with his insecurities over whether his work really stands on its own.

Infinity Pool review

With his third feature, Infinity Pool, Cronenberg Jnr does something similar. His surrogate is James Foster, a writer who published a book six years ago but hasn't been able to deliver a follow-up. Luckily for James, he married the daughter of a publisher. Seeking inspiration, James and Em travel to a high class resort in Li Tolqa, a fictional country that resembles a mix of Cuba and Soviet era East Germany. It's probably not a coincidence that James is played by another beneficiary of nepotism, Alexander Skarsgård, son of Stellan.

As in Renoir's film, the protagonist of Cronenberg's is approached by an attractive young woman who claims to adore his book. The young English woman, Gabi, is played by Mia Goth, so we immediately sense she might be up to no good. James is invited, along with his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman), by Gabi and her French husband Alban (Jalil Lespert) to join them on a trip away from the resort to a nearby beach. Later, Gabi gets James alone and strokes more than just his ego, if you get what I mean (and if you don't, Cronenberg makes it explicitly clear).

On the drive back to the resort, James runs over and kills a local farmer. He and Em initially want to call the police, but Gabi and Alban convince them to keep quiet, claiming terrible things would happen if they confessed. That night however, the cops arrive at the resort and take James into custody. Trials aren't a thing in Li Tolqa it seems, and it's decided that James is guilty and must face punishment. He's given an ultimatum – he can be executed or he can be cloned and watch as his clone is brutally murdered by a family member of his victim. James wastes no time in opting for the latter.

Infinity Pool review

The ensuing drama plays out like a member of the Cronenberg family remaking Ruben Ostlund's Force Majeure. Like the hapless protagonist of that Swedish satire, James is given the cold shoulder by his wife, who is disgusted at his nonchalant reaction to watching a perfect double of himself sliced up before his eyes. Unable to locate his passport, James is forced to stick around as his wife returns to the US, and he falls in with Gabi, Alban and their group of rich sociopath friends, who make the fascists of Salo seem like a book club. Knowing they face no real punishment, these people revel in committing atrocities against the locals, and James becomes swept up in their nihilistic debauchery. He's finally found his tribe.

There's a lot to unpack in Cronenberg's densely layered film. First and foremost it appears to be a vessel for the filmmaker to explore his artistic insecurities. The casting of Skarsgard is inspired. Despite his Adonis looks, he's an actor who has always portrayed a vulnerability and insecurity, never more explicitly than here. There's a label annoying people on the internet have recently come up with for the likes of Cronenberg and Skarsgard – "Nepo babies" – and Cronenberg seems to directly reference this particular insult with Gabi constantly referring to James as a "baby" whenever it seems he might be in danger of having an attack of moral conscience. At one of James's lowest points she even offers him a nipple to suck on. It's not too hard to imagine Goth whispering "Nepo baby" in Skarsgard's ear before every take.

Infinity Pool review

Other themes are explored in murkier fashion. The film has something to say about the curious tradition of wealthy westerners travelling to troubled countries and residing in a cocoon while poverty, famine and war rage outside the walls of a top class resort. The resort is a mish mash of lazily rendered cultural clichés, from a Chinese restaurant to a Bollywood dance show, allowing its guests to experience foreign cultures without having to interact with foreigners. At the same time, the film seems to have a muddled view on class. The decadent rich are portrayed as sociopaths, but curiously they don’t target the poor locals but rather those who share their high status, invading the mansion of a wealthy landowner. Gabi and Alban have the surname Bauer, which ironically translates from German as "peasant." Does their targeting of fellow elites suggest a self-loathing, in keeping with the film's overall theme of insecurity?

Unlike his father, whose metaphors and allegorical scenarios are far more direct, Cronenberg doesn't make things easy for the viewer. Take from it what you will is the whole of his law. I think I know what Infinity Pool is about, but I could be wrong. One thing I know for sure is that Cronenberg knows exactly what he's doing here. If he is wrestling with insecurity (and what good artist doesn't?), it isn't reflected in his work, which is as confident as that of the best of today's genre filmmakers.

Infinity Pool
 is on UK/ROI VOD now.

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