Movie Review: There are some real highlights in Brandon Cronenberg’s newest art house horror, mainly the chemistry between Alexander Skarsgard and Mia Goth. But “Infinity Pool” struggles to build into anything beyond a set of shocking horror images and audacious scenes.
“Infinity Pool” is the newest film by Canadian director Brandon Cronenberg and stars Alexander Skarsgard and Mia Goth. To outside viewers, this just might seem like another run-of-the-mill horror cast, but for those deeply entrenched in the genre, this movie has been a long time coming. Cronenberg is now a staple in the underground, art house scene with successes like “Possessor” and “Antiviral” – but “Infinity Pool” seems like a real step up in terms of ambition, cast, and scale. Combined with the incredibly positive years that Skarsgard and Goth have had recently, “Infinity Pool” shot up the list of the movies I was most excited to see in 2023.
When James Foster (Skarsgard) and his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) travel to an isolated island resort, they plan to soak up the sun and relax in order for James to gain inspiration for his next book. But when they meet mysterious and engaging Gabbi (Goth), they set a series of events in motion that lead James to an underground scheme involving body doubles, violence, and disturbing behavior. Unfortunately for him, getting out of the web is much, much more difficult than getting into it.
Brandon Cronenberg is in a completely unique position with “Infinity Pool.” Few movies about nepotism have even been tried by those given a relatively easier path to cracking into the industry. It may be unfair to say that Brandon unilaterally and unequivocally capitalized on his family name (his father David Cronenberg being one of the arguable Mount Rushmore figures of the horror genre) because while he’s offered more opportunity partially due to this factor, there’s also a hefty amount of anticipation and expectation that comes along with it.
And for the most part, it seems that Brandon is making good on his own potential. His first feature “Antiviral” debuted in 2012 to relatively positive acclaim – but it wasn’t until 2020’s “Possessor” would Cronenberg completely branch from his father and into his own lane. The movie seemed to deal with near futuristic opportunities handed only to the rich and powerful, perhaps a commentary on his own rise throughout the film industry.
I feel smug even typing some of these pessimistic notions about Brandon Cronenberg because he’s genuinely a really bright and increasingly interesting filmmaker. I found “Possessor” to be the work of someone well-seasoned at sitting in the directing chair. It’s beautifully rendered and completely controlled to a fine point. Andrea Riseborough (who is quite a phenomenal actress – unfortunately now she’s partially overshadowed by her Oscars nomination faux-campaign) absolutely shines as the reserved-yet-commanding presence at the center of that boiling pot. “Possessor” alone made me increasingly interested in Cronenberg’s future works, especially when it was announced his next movie “Infinity Pool” would include the likes of Alexander Skarsgard and Mia freaking Goth.
And maybe my expectations were set a bit too high considering that Brandon Cronenberg is still a relatively new face in the genre. He clearly knows how to develop emotion and tension from scene to scene, but “Infinity Pool” shows the kinks of a craftsmen figuring out his own voice. Much like his father, Brandon isn’t afraid to dive heavily into body horror and visceral images. His new movie is loaded with every bodily fluid and audacious, violent action you can think of.
But in 2023, the abnormal is slowly becoming the normal. Weird movies aren’t all that weird anymore, especially considering “Infinity Pool” is brought to us by NEON studios, whose previous horror releases include “Titane,” “In The Earth,” and David Cronenberg’s “Crimes of the Future” just last year. Above all else, those movies seemed much more interested in picking apart topics including gender identity, outcasts in society, and the natural horrors of a worldwide epidemic. Beyond the stripped back visuals and bodily terror of “Infinity Pool,” there isn’t much to chew on.
Now that’s not to say that Brandon Cronenberg slapped a few horror scenes together and called it a day, because there is some attempt to add his own narrative to a world of industry plants and nepo babies. Alexander Skarsgard’s character James Foster takes complete advantage of his wealth obtained by marrying his established wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman). This wealth opens him up to a world of millionaire elites, and the lifestyle and rules that come with it.
Mia Goth’s Gabi serves as the entrance into a world riddled with crime and lust, although her performance seems ripped straight out of a double-feature of “X” and “Pearl” – two performances of hers that I prefer much more to this one. She still shines through as the flashiest of the roles here, even if she is only tasked with yelling “JAAAAAMES!” in the final third of the movie.
“Infinity Pool” sets up ideas, but never really capitalizes on them. Every time it seems that Cronenberg is finally building to some meaningful or memorable release of tension, he cuts it with rapid editing of shots used prior in the movie mingled in with flashing lights. It rings less like an auteur having concise visions and more like a filmmaker struggling to convey what he sees in his own mind.
All in all, “Infinity Pool” is a rather mixed bag. The performances pull it to the finish line, but there’s not much beyond it that sets it even to “Possessor” or other art house horror flicks in recent memory. A movie aiming to be wholly original does not automatically make it great. Is “Infinity Pool” occasionally beautiful? Absolutely. Are there some truly gnarly and tense moments? Perhaps. Does it end up paying off in the end? Not really. It struggles to make the viewer feel anything, honestly.