The year 2022 was a particularly strong one in horror filmmaking, and Brandon Cronenberg tried to carry that torch into 2023 with his sci-fi horror thriller “Infinity Pool.” Brandon — son of legendary director David Cronenberg, known for his bone-chilling body horror — has much to prove beyond just making a great movie. He inevitably has to prove that he can at least come close to matching the success of his father, who is known for classics such as “The Fly” and “Crash.” But while “Infinity Pool” contains a lot of promising material, Brandon’s latest film needs much more to be placed in conversation with the finest works of the senior Croenenberg.
The film picks up in an idyllic resort with luxury rooms, poolside breakfasts and direct beach access. James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård), an author whose only novel was released six years prior, is staying at the resort with his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman), the daughter of a successful publisher. One morning, Gabi (Mia Goth), a fan of Foster’s work, approaches him and invites him to a dinner double date with her and her husband, Alban (Jalil Lesert).
The following day, Gabi and Alban invite Foster and Em on a drive around the countryside. With some finagling, the group manages to acquire a car and be allowed outside of the fenced-off resort premises into the otherwise danger-filled fictional nation of Li Tolqa, a locale unlikely to host the next season of “The White Lotus.” After their day, and a few too many drinks, Foster hits and kills a local farmer on the drive back to their lodgings. Gabi and Alban tell him not to call the police, who are corrupt and will not take the accident lightly.
But somehow word gets out, and Foster is woken up the next morning by state officials. At the brutalist building he and Em are escorted to, Foster is sentenced to death — but there’s a catch. Li Tolqa has cracked the code on cloning technology, and tourists facing execution can pay for a clone of themselves to be killed in their place. And the convicted have to watch themselves get killed.
The rest of the film revolves around this high-concept plot device, following a secretive group of resort guests that have all witnessed their clones’ deaths — a group that surprisingly includes Gabi and Alban. While this is a fascinating premise, the film ultimately does a much better job at setting up ideas than it does completing them. At one point, Foster is asked if he ever wonders whether his “original self” or his clone was the one actually killed, a possibility due to the strange cloning process. In asking this question, the film reaches toward a poignant paranoia but is unable to latch onto this feeling before it dissipates.
But the quality of many of the film’s individual scenes make up for some of its shortcomings. The effects in the initial cloning sequence are just about perfect, using a combination of “Star Wars”-esque computer interfaces with 1980s-looking 3D renderings à la “Tron.” Despite their clearly dated look, the effects work flawlessly to set up a uniquely charming yet unsettling aesthetic. The same is true of all of the film’s other surrealist sequences, including, but not limited to, a psychedelic root-fueled masked orgy. But the issue with many of these aesthetically interesting scenes is that they are not nearly as disturbing as they think they are. They use some shocking imagery, but their effect never lingers in the mind for particularly long.
What should not be subject to criticism, though, is the performance of Mia Goth. Adding to a repertoire that includes 2018 remake “Suspiria,” “X” and “Pearl,” Goth is slowly cementing herself as one the foremost horror actresses of this generation. And even if the quality of this film fails to fully match her talent, she raises the bar in every moment she can. Gabi is a character who is initially hard to fully pin down on a moral map, and Goth is able to display all the possibilities with incredible believability. When the curtain is finally lifted, she gives it her all and carries the film on her back.
“Infinity Pool” is by no means bad — it has too many really great elements to fully write it off. But it also leaves too much to be desired to give it particularly high marks. It presents Brandon Cronenberg as an exciting visual director with daring ideas, even if they don’t quite work in this outing. But at the end of the day, its originality must be admired, no matter the disappointment that ultimately surrounds it.
Finn Kirkpatrick is an arts & culture editor. He is a junior from Los Angeles, California studying Comparative Literature who likes to review movies and other things of that sort.