INFINITY POOL
(***Ĺ)-VITO CARLI

"...a perplexing, puzzling, and disturbing film..."

Taking the Plunge Into Dark Waters

(052523) Infinity Pool is a highly erotic and violent sci-fi/ horror flick/class commentary movie/art film with some torture porn elements thrown in. The film has received enthusiastic reviews from most critics, but it polarized general audiences and received either incredibly positive or extremely negative reviews from them.

It was directed by the talented Brandon Cronenberg, son of the body horror master, Dave Cronenberg. Brandon also directed Antiviral (2012), and Possessor (2020). I think this film is actually a little stronger than his dadís last film, Crimes of the Future which was more fun to analyze than actually watch. Although both Cronenbergs have some things in common including a penchant for perverse horror and breaking cinematic taboos, with this film the extremely skilled film maker has moved further away from his dadís shadow and is developing his own idiosyncratic style.

A real infinity pool is a structure holding water that is purposely designed so the viewer cannot see the edges creating the illusion that they are not there, and that the pool reaches into infinity. Just like the pool viewers will see certain things they will believe to be true, but they will later learn they canít trust what they see and the film sometimes gives the illusion of something false. The director himself, Brandon Cronenberg said that the film exists in dream logic, and it is closer to magical realism than hard science fiction.

The film is far trippier than anything from his dadís oeuvre, and it has some of the hallucinogenic qualities of Alejandro Jodorowsky, the bloody violence of Mario Bava, and its surrealism plus class commentary evokes at its best evokes the work of Luis Bunel. Like Jodorowskyís films especially El Topo, the viewer is often left wondering if anything onscreen is actually happening and there are a few reversals when what we think happens turns out to be false. Itís too bad there are no more midnight films because I could have seen this film becoming a cult classic and playing the same theatres at midnight every weekend for years like Eraserhead or Rocky Horror Picture Show.

The original cut was rated NC7 for its graphic violence and sexual content, and it was shown at Sundance to great acclaim at Sundance. But the R rated version is the one that was widely released and also is the on the DVD I viewed. Even the R version pushes the envelope, and it is more graphic than most other R films.

The film has an extremely appealing visual style and some of the yearís best cinematography courtesy of Karim Hussain (he also shot the beautiful and underrated Hobo with a Shotgun). In contrast to traditional cinema which starts out with wide shots and then focuses on a character in a close up this film does the opposite which disorients the viewer and makes the viewer wonder where the person is. In an Indywire interview, Hussain talked about how he used a special tricky tool called Cinefade to change the depth of focus. This was masterfully used in a shot with a couple, Em and James in a disintegrating marriage, and she is shown gradually fading in her side of the frame like their vanishing marriage.

The film starts out dashing expectations like the opening of Blue Velvet which shows a beautiful pastoral scene but the tranquility is spoiled when we see the severed ear. In Infinity Pool we also get a scene of a beautiful seemingly ordinary town but then the camera turns completely over de-centering the audience and throwing them off making them know that not everything will not be normal or ok.

The whole cast is excellent but Mia Goth is especially memorable. Mia Goth has terrific in everything she has been in including Nymphomaniac (2013), High Life (2018), Suspiria (2018), X and Pearl (both 2022). Although she is becoming a horror icon for her frequent fright film appearances, she should not be called a scream queen because unlike Faye Wray or Asia Argento she spends more time slashing or defending herself than screaming. Once again, she is extraordinarily good here playing someone who is not what she appears to be.

Alexander Skarsgaard (from True Blood and The Northman) is also completely convincing playing James, a filthy rich but morbidly unhappy author who married into money but has not written a book in six years in order to break his writerís block, he vacations in a Resort in the fictional country of Li Tolqa, a secluded land. Although the Resort is fictional it is based on a real resort the Cronenberg visited in the Dominican Republic. He said that the rich visitors of the resort had to be flown in by a helicopter and the resort was surrounded by barb wire fences around it so the rich could not mingle with the mostly poor people outside. The actual film was shot mostly in Croatia and Hungary and the film looks very foreign. He is accompanied by his from big money wife, Em (Cleopatra Coleman) who seems to hold him in contempt too at times. At one point she even says, ďMy father is also a monster so I married the first broke book writer to spill a drink on me.Ē Like the main character in Breaking Bad he starts out as a likeable guy that eventually becomes a monster through circumstances. Yet we as viewers still somewhat hope he will survive and he is still somewhat more moral than the other characters.
 
At the Resort James meets an enthusiastic fan, Gabi (played by Mia Goth) who boldly befriends him and hooks him with the opening line: ďI loved your book.Ē He looks surprised because perhaps he thought no one had read it. Early on she preys on Jamesís weaknesses and soon seduces him leading him by the nose throughout the whole film. Gradually Gabi and her husband Alban (Jalil Lespert) take Em and James under their wing and guide them into a world of decadence and depravity. Jamesís wife is more reluctant to participate in the chaos and leaves about halfway through the film. This leads James to make several life changing mistakes that take him down a darker direction.

His first mistake is escaping from the resort even though he knows it is forbidden, something visually reinforced by all the fences and intimidating guards that are there to prevent tourists from leaving. He quickly realizes the other side of the fence is a world of the very superstitious, the primitive and severely unforgiving. Accidentally he runs over a poor farmer while he is driving home drunk. This puts him on the wrong side of the countriesí curious retributive justice system. The other tourists donít encourage him to go the police, in fact they tell him if the police apprehend him, they are likely to rape his wife. When the authorities do find out about the crime and want to execute James. But as is the custom since he is rich he can pay off the authorities and an have exact clone of him take his place being executed. The accused murderer must then watch his clone die in public by the hands of the sons of the farmer he killed. It is like watching yourself being killed and some bored rich people seems to get off on this experience. It's all very reminiscent of  the characters in poppa Cronenberg's Crash (1996) that can only climax if they are in a car crash. Later, to escape boredom the idle rich people intentionally commit horrific crimes just so they can watch their clones die for entertainment.

But the film raises some troubling questions. Are these people really all that different from those of us who enjoy seeing shootings on the news or like to see celebrities like Johnny Depp and Amber Heard humiliate themselves in big trials? Arenít Depp and the murder victims like the clones who suffer for entertainment in this film? On the other hand, is this film which supposedly criticizing voyeurism and exploitation of violence guilty of making us into violence loving voyeurs?

The film is extremely ambiguous here at times. There is some confusion as to whether the people were executed were really the clones with the memories of the originals or the originals. Also, since at least one person awakes from a dream at one point the whole thing might be a nightmare. Iím not sure that it all eventually makes sense but it doesnít really have to. The film is more interested in blowing our minds than giving us a comforting closure or easy spoon fed answers.

Infinity Pool is a perplexing, puzzling, and disturbing film with graphic sex and bloody special effects. It is undoubtedly not for the timid but it is undeniable that the effects of the film are hard to shake off. When I came out of it, I am most felt like I had had a great nightmare or been on a bad drug trip, and I was relived it was not real. But this is an original and important piece of cinematic art that should be sought out by all horror and sci-fi film fans that want to be challenged.
 

Written & Directed by:    Brandon Cronenberg
Starring:    Alexander Skarsgard, Mia Goth, Cleopatra
 Coleman
Released:    01/27/23 (USA-wide) DVD release: 04/11//23
Length:    117 minutes
Rating:    Rated R for graphic material, disturbing material,
 strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use
 and some language
Available On:     DVD & Blu Wave

For more writings by Vittorio Carli go to www.artinterviews.org and www.chicagopoetry.org. His latest book "Tape Worm Salad with Olive Oil for Extra Flavor" is also available.

Come to the next session of the Monthly Poetry Show on the first Saturday in June (June 3) at Tangible Books in Bridgeport from 8-10 at 3324 South Halsted hosted by Vittorio Carli

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