"Infinity Pool:" Bacchanalia on the Big Screen
Earlier this week, Brandon Cronenberg's highly anticipated horror film, Infinity Pool finally arrived to theaters around the country. Starring Alexander Skarsgård, Mia Goth, and Cleopatra Coleman, Infinity Pool is a piece of Kubrickian, hedonistic, indulgent, chaos with a big helping of "WTF." With a clear, complicated message about wealth, corruption, and desire. A film fit for Dionysus.
Upon its initial release in the festival circuit, Infinity Pool gained the title of "the most disturbing film at Sundance." Director, Brandon Cronenberg, had to fight tooth and nail to lower the film's rating from NC-17 to R, which should give you an idea about the sheer intensity of the film. The film centers around the character, James Foster, a writer suffering from a lack of inspiration, trying to find it in the tropical, corrupt country of Latoka within the confines of a beautiful resort. There, he meets a group of wealthy psychopaths who take him out for nights of crime, debauchery, and hedonism. I can best describe Infinity Pool as Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut through a kaleidoscope lens. In fact, there are so many Kubrick references, it might as well have been produced by the late director, himself. There are references to The Shining, A Clockwork Orange, and of course: Eyes Wide Shut. If you love the themes and content of Kubrick with the chaotic filming techniques of Gaspar Noé, Infinity Pool is for you.
What makes the setting of Latoka unique is the government's strange way of carrying out justice. Normally offenders of the law are killed but exceptionally rich tourists have the option to pay for an expensive, exact, living, breathing replica of themselves to be executed in their place called "doubles." This makes for a corrupt justice system and a third-world country that has been turned into a playground for the wealthy and sadistic. It's a very interesting allegory for how dangerous money can be when it falls into the wrong hands. It harkens back to a time of celebrities jetting off to their private islands during the COVID-19 Pandemic or using shady lawyers or tax shelters to escape legal consequences. It goes without saying that Infinity Pool is quite possibly one of the goriest films to hit theaters in a long time. The graphic violence paired with the emotional distress of the characters, and mind-melting, chaotic montages make for an unforgettable theater experience. Just like his father, it appears that Brandon Cronenberg has inherited a love and talent for body horror.
Not only do these "doubles" act as scapegoats for the rich but also as human sacrifices for their entertainment. The rich group in Infinity Pool will pay large sums of money to watch their doubles get slaughtered in front of them like some kind of live snuff performance. Something that used to be the norm in societies like Ancient Rome with gladiator tournaments. Lives being put on the line for the sake of a rich person's sick enjoyment.
The theme of wealth is explored pretty thoroughly in Infinity Pool. The main character, James Foster, is a writer who suffers from lack of inspiration as much as he does talent. It is stated by his wife, Em, that he was only able to get his first book published because her father is the head of a publishing house. It's interesting to see director, Brandon Cronenberg equate wealth to power, especially when he grew up very rich and the son of one of the world's most iconic filmmakers, David Cronenberg. It could very well be argued that Brandon Cronenberg is a "nepotism baby." In a lot of ways Infinity Pool acts as Cronenberg reflection on himself and his family's socioeconomic status. The feeling of guilt and complicity with the toxic cycle seen in the film is palpable.
In terms of cast, Infinity Pool is simply overflowing with talent. Alexander Skarsgård, Cleopatra Coleman, Jalil Lespert, and Thomas Kretschmann all give commendable performances but the real standout is Mia Goth as Gabi Bauer. As an actor she is able to flawlessly blend seduction with terror, like an impish, evil demon child. Judging by how well received her performances have been in recent years, it's possible that by the end of her career she will be crowned the queen of horror.
There are some truly mesmerizing visuals in Infinity Pool, similar to Gaspar Noé's Climax or even Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Imagine peeking into a kaleidoscope full of bright colors, sex, pain, pleasure, and distress all simultaneously. There are three montage-esque segments of Infinity Pool that will make you feel like you're on an acid trip in the theater. These were by-far my favorite moments of the film because of how stylistic and fully-realized the visuals were.
Part of Infinity Pool's horror lies in the main group of sadistic millionaires that could easily be referred to as a cult. The dynamic between characters is similar to the Greek boiling frog apalogue, which is often applied to cults in the real world. When a frog is placed in a pot of water that is slowly heating up, it will not move but rather try to adjust its own body temperature to adapt. Eventually the water will get too hot and the frog will be boiled alive because by the time it realizes things have gotten too dangerous, it's too late. That's essentially what James Foster endures throughout the film's runtime. However, an analogue is not the only connection Infinity Pool makes to classical Greek culture.
While sitting through Infinity Pool in theaters I couldn't help but notice the similarities between the plot, characters, and the Greek god of wine, religious ectsasy, theatre, and ritual madness: Dionysus (or Bacchus). There are so many connections to the deity, I'm utterly shocked that I haven't seen anyone else write about it yet. It cannot be merely a coincidence. In terms of theatre, the cult all wear these over-the-top, horrifying theatrical masks to commit their crimes. very similar to the Droogs in A Clockwork Orange. The entirety of Infinity Pool is just two hours of "ritual madness" and hedonism. Just non-stop drinking, and screwing, and killing. The cult in the film resembles The Bacchanalia, a cult from Ancient Rome who would privately fund brightly colored festivals dedicated to Bacchus, members of the cult would take place in violent sexual activities, murder, and conspiracy against the state. Just like the doubles of Infinity Pool, thousands of members of The Bacchanalia were either arrested or executed. Debauchery, sex, crime, and executions, a real life Cronenberg film. Perhaps the most straightforward reference to Dionysus comes from a scene in the third act when Mia Goth's character, Gabi, is leading James back to the resort at gunpoint, taunting him, and drinking wine straight from the bottle. Need I say more?
Despite how early we are into 2023, I think it's a safe bet to say that Infinity Pool will remain one of the year's most unique, exciting and disturbing films. I would encourage anyone thinking of seeing it to exercise extreme caution because it is not for the faint of heart. Despite how divisive the film is proving to be, I can confidently say that Brandon Cronenberg is a director to keep your eye on because who knows what kind of twisted art he's going to make next? All I know is that I will be eagerly waiting.