Brandon Cronenberg’s second feature “Infinity Pool” sets the Canadian director up for a bright future, as he follows in the footsteps of building a cult following like his father, “The King of Venereal Horror,” David Cronenberg. Drawing comparisons between the two would make sense, but the emergence of Brandon Cronenberg’s style sets his trajectory on the right path, one thematically different from his senior. The story revolves around novelist James Horner (Alexander Skarsgård) and the eclectic company he falls into (Mia Goth and Jalil Lespert) during a seemingly idyllic vacation with dark underlying consequences. By diving deeper into the chaos of his succinctly streamlined nightmare-fueled vision, Cronenberg’s vast set of resources is utilized to the fullest.
The distinction between the body and mind, a notion quite familiar to Cronenberg as demonstrated with his previous film “Possessor,” makes its return in a rather dramatic fashion, albeit in a good way. While the latter seems to seep its way into the story itself, the physicality of both Skarsgård and Goth’s performances elevate their characters to another level. The wide range of emotions they display through their chemistry casts aside any mediocrity in the acting department. Skarsgård is no stranger to working with roles reliant on physicality, as demonstrated in his vengeful performance in last year’s “The Northman,” carrying over a touch of this extravagance to his portrayal of Horner. Goth’s range displayed in this specifically solidifies her propensity to succeed in any sort of role, but she seems to have found her niche by playing unhinged characters with a capacity to commit extreme violence.
This is all the more welcome in a film that aims to provoke and disgust the viewer, as gathered from the original NC-17 release which premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Riddled with uncomfortable situations, the intrigue lies within the repulsion, as familiar viewers soon realize that their sentiments are mirrored by those on screen.
Atmospherically visceral to the highest degree, the claustrophobic combination of neon-based color palette and dynamic camera work conjures a nauseating effect that bleeds into the characters’ and audience’s minds. The perverse nature of these scenes in particular offers a glimpse into the vile nature of groupthink, ultimately muddling with the effects of questionable ethical decisions made by the elite. Specifically resonant within the first two acts, the problems of the rich somehow morph into opportunistic missions of masochistic pleasure, a dichotomy that is explored with the utmost precision. The film goes in-depth to explore how corrupt states place those in power who are willing to sacrifice any sense of morality for personal gain (tourism being the main perpetrator), offering an insight into an aspect of society often overlooked.
Although the repetitive nature of the gratuitous violence and sexuality may seem excessive to some, its simultaneous fetishization and condemnation of the acts committed blur the often distinct portrayals of the subjects. Karim Hussain’s cinematography only embellishes the depraved nature of what is being shown, particularly shining in his usage of contrast and color — predominantly the visual flair on display throughout the red and black alongside the yellow and blue painted scenes are simply outstanding. From overstimulating sequences of unadulterated chaos to the brute-force nature of Tim Hecker’s energizing synth-based soundtrack, all of the key elements come together to create an experience that cannot be replicated or mimicked, something that even the harshest of critics should be able to admit.
However, a rather emotionally distant payoff holds the film back from meeting its full potential, and it feels like there’s a small piece of the puzzle missing. A couple of opportunities to link thematic connections are unfortunately squandered, missing a chance to tie the social commentary and the intricate use of shock together. The film is at least conceptually unique enough to remedy this, and there’s no denying the apparent creative integrity the cast and crew strove to keep at the forefront of the film, resulting in an unparalleled, fresh ambiance that permeates through the project. Cronenberg’s skill to craft a seamless sense of immersion into his narrative ultimately triumphs over the broader issues present in the story — paving the way for his resounding style to accomplish even more in the future.
Verdict: The distinct identity of “Infinity Pool” alongside a stellar performance from Mia Goth aided Cronenberg to another hit, further igniting his directorial career.