Infinity Pool is gluttonous, psychosexual excess: Sundance Film Festival Review

The wealthy whites and their easy skewering is a narrative mentality that we have been witness to in a variety of practices as of late.  But unlike The White Lotus and The Menu, two of the most recent examples of such a temperament, Brandon Cronenberg‘s Infinity Pool pushes further past being just a little wicked in his commentary.  Instead, he plunges headfirst into psychosexual excess, serving us as an audience a gluttonous amount of privileged punishment as we bare witness to psychological breakdowns and breakthroughs.

Offsetting the lush (fictional) island setting of Li Tolqa with graphic, confronting body horror and sexual imagery (the film’s NC-17 cut viewed at Sundance not afraid to indulge in literal money shots), there’s a discomfort to the local resort, despite its beautiful surroundings.  Vacationing there are James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård) and his wife, Em (Australian actress Cleopatra Coleman), a failed author and his bankroller, respectively.  There’s obvious resentment present between the two – she makes sly digs at her essentially funding his existence – which makes James’s shifted interest from his wife to fellow vacationer Gabi (Mia Goth, an unhinged delight, as to be expected) all the more understandable; it probably also helps his bruised ego that she claims to have loved his book.

Gabi builds James up just enough so that he’ll feel comfortable in accepting her dinner invitation, and then even more so when she and her husband, Alban (Jalil Lespert), suggest they journey outside the resort’s military-like guarded walls for a day trip to a local swimming spot.  The casualness in which Gabi and Alban break such rules is a sign of things to come, and the beach trip itself results in a surprising sex act where Gabi asserts her dominance over James, with his lack of power in return similarly laying the foundation for his character’s eventual journey of worth.

Up to this point Infinity Pool has operated on a mostly acceptable level (save for an extreme close-up of an ejaculating penis), but this being a Cronenberg feature means any safety we falsely have adhered to will be violently taken away from us, so when James opts to drive the crew home from their day of drunken debauchery we are unsurprised when he hits a local with his car and begins to lightly spiral out of sheer panic.  Gabi and Alban are far more calm in their response.  They assert that such a situation won’t bode well for James should he report the incident, so they send him back to the resort with the intent of handling the body disposal themselves.

Here is where Infinity Pool‘s kicker paves the way for morality and the macabre to brutally fornicate, with James being presented the option of his fate when he is threatened with jail time; confess and die at the hands of the victim’s next of kin or pay to have a clone made to die in his place.  Cronenberg clearly delights in toying with the exploration of wealthy exploitation, playing in a world that would be viable if the technology existed of the loopholes the rich would dance around should it mean they get away with their crimes.

From hereon, Infinity Pool ebbs and flows as James starts to awake from within himself.  Defeated at the hands of those who made sure his book was a categorical flop, and now having resigned himself to essential house husbandry, there’s an initial fascination – both primal and pornographic – in not only witnessing his own death, but knowing how violent he could truly be without any true consequences to his life.  To be expected though, James’s eventual fall down the rabbit hole is too great to climb out, and just as he bangs his chest and broadens his own stature on screen whenever he embraces a certain sense of dominance and power, he cowers and smallens himself when attacked.  He isn’t a man built for intimidation – despite the actor’s appearance – and because of this inherent vulnerability, Skarsgård’s performance here is perhaps the most nuanced and intriguing he has ever been.

Goth, on the opposite side of the spectrum, owns her sexuality and dominion throughout.  Manipulative and cunning, and leaning in to the film’s themes of trauma bonding, her Gabi is a walking nightmare.  She’s beautiful and charming one moment and then terrifyingly unhinged the next – a latter scene of her goading James out of his hopeful escape and shaming him for his professional failures is a twisted delight to watch – and despite her obvious monstrous psyche, it’s difficult to not applaud her.  She’s aware of her privilege and won’t apologise for affording her homicidal luxury.

Despite all its rich pleasures – the film itself also looks psychedelically stunning, with cinematographer Karim Hussain‘s experimental mashing of blues and reds exploding on screen, sometimes quite literally during a definitive orgy sequence that’s more terrifying than titillating – Infinity Pool won’t be a film for everyone.  Cronenberg, like his famous father, has never made films to be consumed by the general masses, but James feeding himself to the wolves is a fascinating exploration of a tested tale of the rich engaging in hedonism in a foreign land – not to mention the conversations laid forth through the filmmaker’s take on cloning, body autonomy, and moral grounds – that it’s difficult to not be impressed by his vision, even if you can’t stomach it.


Infinity Pool is playing as part of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, taking place between January 19th and 29th, 2023, both in person and online.  For more information head to the official Sundance page.

Peter Gray

Film critic with a penchant for Dwayne Johnson, Jason Momoa, Michelle Pfeiffer and horror movies, harbouring the desire to be a face of entertainment news.