Brandon Cronenberg’s new film serves up another slice of that luxury fear-porn that we’ve had on TV’s The White Lotus and Succession, or Triangle of Sadness in the movies. Here, the trappings and appurtenances of the leisured super-rich might turn out to be just the design features of a prison. Infinity Pool is set in a super-exclusive vacation resort, a razor-wired compound of pampering on an otherwise poverty-stricken fictional island – but the place turns out to have Hotel California-style rules about the respective times available for checking out and leaving.
Infinity Pool is part body horror, part folk horror, with twisty hints of JG Ballard and Ian McEwan; it also features a tremendous turn from Mia Goth, who is currently ruling our cinema screens elsewhere in Ti West’s shocker Pearl. There are some intriguingly nasty ideas, along with nice performances from Goth and from her male lead, Alexander Skarsgård. But after a great opening, there are some shark-jumping moments in the second and third acts, and the doppelganger idea is a bit tired. Getting the same actor to play the two parts is really something that should be confined to film students’ graduation projects or TikTok videos.
Skarsgård is James Foster, a failed novelist on holiday in the imaginary island of La Tolqa with his stylish and wealthy wife, Em (Cleopatra Coleman), whose money is paying for it all. They mope listlessly around the pool and buffet, uneasily noticing locals’ protests about the way Indigenous La Tolqa islanders are being exploited by the white western 1% on their sun loungers.
Things pick up when James meets fellow vacationer Gabi, played by Goth, who pertly declares herself to be a huge fan of his (only) novel. Succumbing instantly to her flattery and sexiness, James persuades Em that they should hang out with Gabi and her faintly sinister older husband, Alban (Jalil Lespert), who are giving off a bit of a key-party vibe.
All four somehow manage to leave the secure holiday compound for a boozy beachside picnic in the scary crime-ridden island, but while blearily driving back in the darkness something awful happens and their vacation turns into a nightmare. The La Tolqa law that those guilty of capital crimes have to be ritually slaughtered by the victim’s surviving relative is mitigated by a certain bizarre factor: guilty rich westerners can pay to avoid the worst using a certain technological procedure. Cronenberg seems pre-emptively concerned that the audience is going to second-guess the ending here, and an obvious reveal is ruled out straight away. But James has no choice but to join what amounts to a secret cult of Dionysiac violence: a sinister league of raddled, worldly western sensualists, led by the entertainingly nasty Gabi.
This is an always watchable film, although its status as satire is a bit unclear and it appears always to be drifting into and then away from a terrifying, mind-melting climax. When the ending does come, there is something disconcertingly downbeat about it, although the final image of James is unnerving and oddly poignant. It’s a movie straining for more than it’s achieving, moment by moment, but Goth’s toxic energy always holds the attention.
• Infinity Pool is released on 24 March in UK and Irish cinemas.