Infinity Pool (2023)

Brandon Cronenberg | 1hr 58min

When Brandon Cronenberg first lands us on the fictional Pacific Island of Li Tolqa in Infinity Pool, there is an eerily oppressive atmosphere running through its bright, luxurious settings. Much like Midsommar, we might assume that the horror of this location lies in some dark secret kept by the locals who wear grotesque masks and warn tourists not to leave the compound. Our introduction to the resort even comes through a series of upside-down tracking shots, tumbling us above pools, huts, and hotels with no sense of spatial orientation, and thereby evoking Gaspar Noé’s own dizzying camerawork. We are right to be unsettled about these vague suggestions of evil lurking on Li Tolqa, yet Cronenberg pulls off a chilling subversion of our expectations in his reveal of its true source – not the residents who are simply trying to live ordinary lives, but the tourists who exploit its laws and culture for their own destructive, hedonistic pleasure.

Among the most recent batch of visitors is James, an American writer who is on holiday with his wife Em, yet quickly grows attached to another guest claiming to be a fan of his work. Mia Goth continues her streak of brilliant horror collaborations here as the eyebrow-less, English-accent Gabi who sinisterly draws James deeper into a conspiracy that seeks to tear away his humanity, and who is gradually revealed to be a leader of sorts within a small cult of wealthy tourists.

Instrumental to her reign of terror on Li Tolqa is a local law protecting foreigners from capital punishment. If they are sentenced to death, then they can instead have a clone of themselves produced and let them be executed in their place. The first time James undergoes this process following an accidental hit-and-run, there is a spark of fascinated horror in his expression as he watches his double stabbed multiple times in the belly. From there, he finds his transition into Gabi’s inner circle an uneasy yet slippery slope, meeting a cabal of fellow vacationers who visit Li Tolqa every year to commit heinous crimes, and use the suffering of their own clones as a disturbing form of entertainment.

Cronenberg’s overarching metaphor may not be particularly subtle, but it is overwhelmingly visceral – the abuse of others inevitably leads to the dehumanisation of oneself, and once those self-preservation instincts are destroyed, a primal, deranged masochism takes over. Through its vacation setting, Infinity Pool even takes on a satirical edge in its depiction of Western tourists turning foreign destinations into their own personal playgrounds, holding reckless regard for local customs and citizens. In retrospect, perhaps those warnings to avoid leaving the heavily guarded compound aren’t there to protect the guests, but rather to contain them like wild animals.

Of course, with the science-fiction concept of cloning in Infinity Pool comes philosophical questions of identity, as several times we are led question whether it is actually the ‘originals’ being sacrificed rather than the artificial doubles who continue to live in their place. Cronenberg does not so much provide firm answers here than leave it as an uncomfortable possibility in the back of our minds. He especially uses this uncertainty to pull the rug out from under us in one scene when he leads us to believe the original versions of Gabi’s crew are being executed, only to reveal their actual selves in the audience cheering at their own demise – though even here, there are still doubts as to which characters are the ‘real’ ones.

On more formal level, the possibility that these tourists are copies of copies distance them even further from their humanity. At a certain point, the grotesque masks that they steal from locals and wear during their crime sprees become truer representations of their inner selves than their actual faces, transforming them into misshapen, demonic figures engaging in violent felonies, depraved orgies, and illegal drugs. Infinity Pool’s expressionistic visual style is fairly front-loaded with its vibrant neon lighting, but at the height of the hallucinogen-fuelled debauchery later in the film, Cronenberg lets loose on his nightmarish, mash-up montages, forcing us so deeply into James’ dazed mind that his and new friends’ contorted masks seem to come to life.

These frenzied nightmares of technicolour lens flares and surreal, unfocused imagery aren’t solely reserved for James’ drug-induced visions either, as the cloning procedure similarly warps his perceptions of reality through distorted visual sequences. In doing so, Cronenberg draws a formal connection between both dehumanising experiences, ripping James from his old life of stability and into a helpless, primal state. The appearance of one clone who has reverted to his most basic animal instincts supports this notion even further, and by the time James has completely submitted to Gabi’s Freudian mother figure, it is evident that he has hit the point of no return.

Much like Cronenberg’s previous film Possessor, there is a despairing cynicism which guides Infinity Pool through to its ambiguous end, dooming characters to meagre, joyless existences. Without the sweet release of death, this ongoing self-destruction becomes an endless loop of psychological corruption, as wretchedly consistent as the seasonal cycles that entice the same degenerate holidaymakers back to Li Tolqa every single year. For those who have already destroyed everything meaningful in their own lives, there is no such thing as home – just the invasion and obliteration of everyone else’s most sacred, personal spaces.

Infinity Pool is currently playing in theatres.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s