Off the deep end
Mia Goth is on a roll.
That’s one way of looking at Infinity Pool, the third in a string of recent indie horror films (after last year’s X and Pearl) that threaten to erase all memory of the actress in the 2020 Jane Austen adaptation Emma. (Actually, COVID-19 is probably more responsible for killing that delightful movie, which had the misfortune of opening wide just before the pandemic caused people everywhere to stop going to theaters.)
Alexander Skarsgard is the true protagonist of Infinity Pool, playing a tourist who falls in with the wrong crowd — and how — while vacationing. But it is Goth who leaves the deeper impression, chewing up the scenery as one of that crowd that leads him astray, in a histrionically unhinged performance, where even the guardrails installed by writer-director Brandon Cronenberg — if there were any — are plowed through with heedless abandon. To call it overacting is an insult to acting.
Set in the fictional country of La Tolqa and filmed on the Adriatic coast of Croatia — with the actual geographic location masked by signs written in a made-up alphabet of unintelligible squiggles and a police chief (Thomas Kretschmann) who speaks with a German accent — Infinity Pool throws up all kinds of red flags that the resort community in which it takes place is not somewhere anyone in their right mind would ever want to stay. For one thing, the tale unspools during an annual festival, known ominously as the Summoning. It involves the wearing of hideously deformed masks, available in the gift shop, that look like props from a home-invasion slasher.
For another thing, the resort is surrounded by high fencing topped by razor wire, ostensibly to protect the guests from encroachment by the lawless, impoverished populace, but also to keep guests inside. And yet none of that is what’s scary — or truly troubling — about Infinity Pool. Rather, it is the circumstance surrounding a vehicular homicide in which Skarsgard’s James is involved, after attending an illicit off-campus seaside picnic with his wife (Cleopatra Coleman), Goth’s Gabi, and her creepy partner (Jalil Lespert). In La Tolqa, it seems, the penalty for any crime is the same: an especially brutal eye-for-an-eye-style execution — unless you’re a wealthy tourist who can pay to have yourself cloned, in which case a made-to-order doppelganger, complete with your memories and personality, will stand in for you. If you say so, Brandon.
The director, who is the son of filmmaker David Cronenberg, seems to have inherited some of his father’s worst excesses, which are here unleashed in a manner that is sophomoric, fetishistically violent, and hyper-sexualized. Note that I did not say that any of it was erotic. The film’s most gratuitous scene, in a story that is filled with them, involves a graphic sexual encounter between James and Gabi. There is no point to it, just as there is no point to the whole cloning narrative.
Eventually, it becomes clear that this quaint legal loophole — in which James, of course, partakes — has given rise to a subculture of amorality among a small group of tourists. (Call it “The Forever and Ever Purge.”) When one of them asks James whether he ever wonders if the police have executed the right twin, it raises an intriguing conundrum about selfhood — one that is instantly dropped in place of more scenes featuring copious amounts of blood and battered brains.
Speaking of which: Protect your own gray matter and stay far, far away from La Tolqa.
Thriller/horror, rated R, 117 minutes, Regal Santa Fe 6, Regal Stadium 14, Violet Crown, onion