[Sundance Review] INFINITY POOL

[Sundance Review] INFINITY POOL
INFINITY POOL is writer/director Brandon Cronenberg’s third feature film, after the calm and stark prescience of Antiviral and the telepathic emotional slaughterhouse that was Possessor. INFINITY POOL is Cronenberg again working with creative partners like Director of Photography Karim Hussain and special effects artist Dan Martin of 13 Finger FX. This time, Cronenberg has expanded his circle of candescent collaborators to include actors Alexander Skarsgård as James Foster, Mia Goth as Gabi, Cleopatra Coleman as Em Foster, Thomas Kretschmann as Thresh, Amanda Brugel as Jennifer, John Ralston as Dr. Modan and Jeff Rickets as Charles and Jalil Lespert as Alban.

INFINITY POOL is a jaw-dropping achievement. It’s the kind of filmmaking that makes me excited to be at a film festival and be a film critic. I would have been thrilled if they had run the film again right after it ended which is the ultimate compliment in my book. I wanted to watch it again. I needed to watch it again. For a while, my brain was not functioning, it was trying to absorb what I had just seen. The film is filled with electricity and is an intense barrage of ideas and chaos. You are never quite sure where the next danger will come from and one of its sources might surprise you.

This is the film’s synopsis: “While enjoying an idyllic, luxury vacation, James (Skarsgård) encounters the seductive Gabi who promises to show him the hidden side of the island resort. Once beyond the gates, she exposes him to a shocking underworld of violence and sex that pushes his boundaries, with terrifying consequences.”

An exploration of self

[Sundance Review] INFINITY POOL
Courtesy NEON
To me, film is about experimentation with the self, with the building blocks of our identities, our sense of right and wrong, and our relationship to violence. Who you are as a person, in the form of James Foster, and how stable that is. It asks the question, if there were no consequences for violent acts, if you personally did not have to pay a legal price, what would you do? How would that affect you? Would there be self-inflicted consequences or could you justify satisfying your most horrifying impulses and deepest desires on other human beings? The wit in the film intensifies the rule-breaking nature of the film. There’s a hilarious running joke about an item of funerary equipment that had me rolling. The filmmakers are using all of the tools to break down your resistance to their constitutive creative force.

Clones are the vehicle to that supposed nirvana. A mystical ritual is used to create a clone and one character proposes to James, what if they got the wrong man? How would you know that you aren’t the clone? A clone is someone who not only looks like you but thinks like you. There’s never been a film, that I’ve known, that has so successfully rung the delicate chimes of terror on the topic of clones. The very building blocks of identity are that clonal horror. Who are you really? Are you who you think you are? Are you sure?

The film also riffs on privilege. How money can buy anything and how the poor are trampled on by the privileged. There’s even a dream revolt against that privilege that also shows how hollow the traditions of tit-for-tat revenge can be, especially when it is built into the societal structure. We get to view our relationship with justice as violence in the state-sponsored arena. Remember that when the state executes someone, there is always an audience watching.

Pushing the envelope

[Sundance Review] INFINITY POOL
Courtesy NEON
Cronenberg and DP Karim Hussain continue to push the envelope of modern filmmaking. They know the rules of filmmaking, so they can break them in such marvelous ways. They have continued along the path of using the dogma of the establishing shot in the opening sequence. But it’s nothing so banal as a director and cinematographer composing what they see as a great shot in a self-consciously arty or self-congratulatory way. The opening sequence’s establishing shots and the mordant kaleidoscope of the literally hallucinatory dream sequences serve the film’s themes. They are there purposefully, first to take the viewer on an unsettlingly rollercoaster ride that enhances and readies your mind, as the viewer, to accept something much different from what films have conditioned us to expect. Until you realize how rote most filmmaking is, how much of it is formula, you don’t know what else could be achieved and, much like James, you don’t know how your mind can be opened by shots that break from conventional ideas.

The unsettling nature of shots that roll, first, at slightly different angles and then continue to rotate at 180 and 360 degrees is connecting the shot to the themes of the film. But they are also using the unorthodox nature of the shots to seduce the viewer with the film’s most terrifying ideas with a revolutionary beauty. Brandon Cronenberg and Karim Hussain are working on your perceptions of art, film, and reality as much as crafting entertainment for you to watch. They did some of this in Possessor, but they have taken an even greater leap into the radical abyss of creative anarchy in INFINITY POOL. This is what sent a wallop to my brain as a viewer. The freedom that they grasped and wielded. They don’t need rules, as much as Gabi and her cadre don’t need them either. There’s a disquieting sense of the director and creative team peering out at you while you watch, how you react, and what you perceive in a gently amused manner.

Sex & Eroticism in INFINITY POOL

Courtesy NEON

The film’s performances are outstanding. Cronenberg has a tendency to have a central female character that the male lead is in thrall to or leads the action entirely, like Possessor. Mia Goth’s Gabi has a dual personality that is completely without any moral restrictions and is a performer as we all are. Gabi has decided to make James her project for unknown reasons and for an eerie purpose. Why? Because she wants to and her personality is so powerful that Alexander Skarsgård’s James acquiesces without much of a fight. Gabi knows what James really wants and feeds off the ambivalence he has towards his own seemingly perfect life. Goth is magnetic and Skarsgård is the vessel that again breaks with traditional filmmaking.

If you come to INFINITY POOL expecting a riff on Pearl or Maxine, you aren’t ready for what you’re actually going to get. Usually, the male is the seducer and antagonist. Goth and her circle are authoritative and delight in their aggressive desires and actions. They aren’t the stereotypical villains. If anything, the actors infuse their wild behavior with the opposite of what you would normally expect. They are filled with happiness and a sardonic humor. This is fun to them and they drag the viewer into their savage pandemonium. The actors’ performances guided by Cronenberg make their ruthless campaign seem to be both acceptable and exciting. Not a single actor contributes a single false note. As the characters, they live and breathe in this very strange world. The ensemble is perfect.

Is there penis? Of course, there is. This film deals frankly with sex and sexual desire and is chock full of erotic and explicit scenarios. Trust me, this is a good thing and society needs this.

INFINITY POOL – a vision of human potential

Courtesy NEON

The film was shot in Croatia and uses the settings very well to suggest the old standards of human society and its corruption and its effect on human beings. Everything contributes to the themes that are being explored, right down to the diaphanous and open nature of Gabi’s costumes versus the much more staid clothing of James and Em. The film’s music by Tim Hecker adds to the seduction and horror with a musical background that melds seamlessly with the action. The entirety of the work of the creative team is enveloped by and serves and enhances the action and creative grand design.

INFINITY POOl is an astonishing and completely self-confident work from an immensely talented creator and creative team. It can be taken just as a thrill ride but is packed with psychological and ethical questions that seek to break through to the viewer, like the characters in the film. There’s a part of you that wants to be seduced and wants to give in to the magnificent dread of the film. I was thunderstruck by the reckless valor of INFINITY POOL and its characters. There’s nothing so simple as good versus evil, but the film reverberates in place of wild exploration and the creators reaching for places that might not even exist. Ones that they might bring into being simply by imagining them, by throwing open the gates of the mind and facing our own internal contradictions.

Glorious and fearless, INFINITY POOL is a vision of human potential and frailty that’s got a supremely devastating sense of humor. It’s yet another example of Cronenberg’s singular talent for defying the norm and creating his own individualistic universe of perceptive horror and absurdist social satire. I would love to say more and get deeper into the film, but alas, I’ve only seen it once and this is a film that requires multiple viewings for full appreciation of its artistic merits, themes, and ideas. Brandon Cronenberg has only begun to show you his brilliance and his idiosyncratic quest for understanding and his fiery and intelligent experimental drive for excellence. I wish I could write more and I probably will. INFINITY POOL set my brain and nervous system aflame. Erotic, sensual, and ingenious, INFINITY POOL will permeate and penetrate your imagination.

INFINITY POOL had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. It will release in theaters on January 27, 2023.

Editor’s Note: There are strobe/flash effects featured in this film. For those sensitive and/or epileptic, this is your strobe/flash warning.

Dolores Quintana
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