Mia Goth and Alexander Skarsgård in INFINITY POOL | ©2023 Neon

Mia Goth and Alexander Skarsgård in INFINITY POOL | ©2023 Neon

Rating: R
Stars: Alexander Skarsgård, Mia Goth, Cleopatra Coleman, Jalil Lespert, Thomas Kretschmann, Amanda Brugel, John Ralston, Caroline Boulton, Jeffrey Ricketts
Writer: Brandon Cronenberg
Director: Brandon Cronenberg
Distributor: Neon
Release Date: January 27, 2023

INFINITY POOL is one of those movies that requires reviewers to watch the trailer after the fact, in order to know what’s being revealed to prospective audiences, and what still constitutes a spoiler.

In this case, the trailer discloses that we enter the realm of science fiction early on. INFINITY POOL starts in utter blackness, as married couple James (Alexander Skarsgård) and Em (Cleopatra Coleman) muse over whether he blurted out something in a dream or just asked what she wanted for breakfast.

When we see James and Em, we find they’re vacationing in a tropical resort on an island. We sense some marital tension. We learn soon that the resort guests are prohibited from leaving the grounds, as the locals are said to be dangerous. This is true, but not in the way we might imagine.

James is soon befriended by persistent Gabi (Mia Goth), an actor in commercials. Gabi surprises James by announcing that she’s a fan of his one novel, published six years ago. Gabi’s Swiss development tycoon husband Alban (Jalil Lespert) hasn’t read James’s book, but is likewise extremely welcoming.

So, James, eager for friendship and praise, insists to Em that they accompany the other couple on an outside-the-gates adventure. This turns to disaster.

The next morning, James is arrested. He is informed that the island has a strict death penalty, to be enforced immediately. However, he can avoid being executed if – for a high cash price – he agrees to let the state create an exact double of him. The double will not only be physically identical to James, but will share all of his memories. In other words, it will believe it’s him. The island government’s theory here is that someone being punished will feel the responsibility, shame, and fear for the crime. And James and Em must watch the execution.

INFINITY POOL movie poster | ©2023 Neon

INFINITY POOL movie poster | ©2023 Neon

So far, we’re still within what can be gleaned from the trailer. This is in fact a terrific concept, with almost infinite possibilities. Another thing that can be determined from the trailer is that there’s a lot of violence and chaos in INFINITY POOL. Since we haven’t reached most of those shots yet, we know they’re coming.

There are a couple of enormous plot twists that follow, which are very shrewdly conceived. But this is not the same as being used well.

It’s clear that writer/director Brandon Cronenberg wants to say something, and that James’s easily cowed persona is deliberate. But in a film about the meaning of identity, it’s hard to get to the bottom of what’s being said when the focal point character is aware, deep down, that he doesn’t have much sense of self. It’s also hard to become invested, although Skarsgård gives a fearless and nuanced performance. James is relatively insubstantial as a human being; we can’t really work up too much concern about whether his identity (what there is of it) alters or not.

There’s a stretch where it seems like INFINITY POOL is going to turn out to be one of those horror movies where we don’t care about anyone, but it has an intriguing storyline.

However, this isn’t the case either. Once the twists are revealed, INFINITY POOL becomes disappointingly repetitive, even protracted. A point is being made, but instead of evolving, it simply plays out in variations.

Cronenberg has dazzling visual style, and a way of depicting sex that is both arty and frank. He also gets excellent turns from the cast, with leads Skarsgård and Goth as standouts.

If INFINITY POOL had been made exactly as it is in the ‘60s or ‘70s, it would be hailed as groundbreaking. The film does have its own way of bringing together its observations about human nature. Still, it feels like an homage to an era when intellectual arguments and visceral images weren’t expected to have an emotional component as well.

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