Infinity Pool is wonderfully disgusting — and (unfortunately) Canadian

Brandon Cronenberg’s Infinity Pool is full of impressive, frightening and often fun performances — and is beautifully shot to boot. But when it comes to the story, it's branded with a uniquely Canadian desperation for implied depth that, at times, can feel more film school than Hollywood.

Brandon Cronenberg's third film is a wildly inventive ride, though with a touch too much abstraction

A woman with long blonde hair looks at a man with sunglasses, who stares down at a colourful and disfigured mask. Behind them is a beach.
Mia Goth, left, and Alexander Skarsgård appear in this still from Infinity Pool. The horror/sci-fi film from Brandon Cronenberg is wonderfully weird — if at times a bit esoteric. (Elevation Pictures)

Between Dune, Avatar, and what seems like half the Marvel Cinematic Universe's modern heroes, you'd be excused for thinking Canada has finally entered the movie mainstream.

Just look at Sarah Polley's Women Talking making its way onto the Oscars' best picture list, or Brendan Fraser competing with the likes of Colin Farrell and Austin Butler for best actor, and the difference between cinema north and south of the 49th parallel may not seem all that stark. 

But really, anyone grown up on Hobo With a Shotgun, Heavy Metal, The Peanut Butter Solution, or the house hippo can tell you "CanCon" tends to have a particular flavour — and that flavour is often pretty weird. 

So in calling Brandon Cronenberg's Infinity Pool a Telefilm Triangle of Sadness —  Ruben Östlund's 2022 Oscar-nominated takedown of the rich, famous and vapid — you might be able to guess what I mean. The film is not bad by any stretch; it's full of impressive, frightening and often fun performances, and is beautifully shot to boot.

But when it comes to the story, its attempts to force a semi-obscure parable with a heady message don't fall flat exactly, but they do brand Infinity Pool with a uniquely Canadian desperation for implied depth through head-scratching complexity that, at times, can feel more film school than Hollywood. 

WATCH | Brandon Cronenberg, Amanda Brugel and Alexander Skarsgård talk Infinity Pool:

Infinity Pool stars on the film's dark directions

2 months ago
Duration 2:34
Brandon Cronenberg, Amanda Brugel and Alexander Skarsgård talk to CBC News about working on Infinity Pool — touching on everything from its culture criticism, to getting advice from horror king David Cronenberg.

What it means to be rich

At the same time, Infinity Pool does give Cronenberg — son of "venereal" horror king David Cronenberg — space to test the limits of all the genres the film's inventively unsettling plot straddles.

In it, we follow Alexander Skarsgård's James Foster, a struggling author with only a single, poorly performing novel on his résumé as he attempts to find inspiration abroad. 

Accompanied and financed by his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman), James heads to the Pa Qlqa Pearl Princess Resort to hopefully stumble on an idea for a new book. Unfortunately — or perhaps insignificantly, to both him and the rest of the hotel's wildly wealthy clientele —  the fictional country of Li Tolqa they travel to is run by a strictly governed, heavily corrupt regime that is far less concerned with restorative justice than it is for a good bit of eye-for-an-eye.

That proves especially disastrous for James, after fellow resort guest (Mia Goth's fantastically creepy Gabi, without a doubt one of the most impressive elements of the film) convinces him to sneak outside the property's razor-wire protected grounds. Driving back at night, a more than slightly drunk James hits and kills a local farmer, is arrested the next day and informed of the punishment: immediate execution, to be carried out by the victim's son.   

Luckily for him, that same government also offer a service to maintain the stream of wealth high-class tourists bring in, allowing those convicted of crimes to have a clone — imbued with all their memories, and the seeming belief they are real — killed instead. 

 What follows is an admittedly wild and inventive descent into what it means to be human, what it means to be a creative — and what it means to be rich. Because, though Cronenberg explained to CBC's Eli Glasner at a Toronto red carpet the idea for Infinity Pool didn't come from class-conscious criticism, the theme is hard to ignore.

A man and a women sit at opposite sides of a small restaurant table at night. Each have a martini glass in front of them.
The film delves into and stretches the boundaries of multiple genres: from horror, to sci-fi, to fantasy. (Elevation Pictures)

That theme is seemingly reinforced at every turn: soon after James gets away with his own murder by instead killing a version of himself, he learns Gabi and the rest of the rich Americans — who refer to themselves as tourist "zombies" — have done the same for years.

So, by midway through the film, it's hard to view the ultra-rich guests drunkenly shooting up locals' homes and then clapping as hastily made avatars are executed in their place (for a price only they could afford) as anything other than a metaphor for modern economic systems, our heavily stratified society and how those at the top take advantage.

Here, Li Tolqa is quite literally a playground for the rich, with an apparent metaphor nearly as transparent as Gerard Butler's 2009 Gamer  — where poor people are co-opted as video game avatars — or Justin Timberlake's In Time — where the rich hoard ever-lengthening lifespans instead of money. 

WATCH | Infinity Pool trailer: 

The reading is even more appetizing when taken in context, as there's been a litany of similar releases: best-picture nominee Triangle of Sadness, Emmy-dominating The White Lotus, even 2021's eerily similar (up until the car crash, anyway) The Forgiven. Along with The MenuThe Hunt and The Square, they all reflect and champion a growing distaste with the one per cent. 

Given the trend, it's understandable to want to view Infinity Pool as simply another entry in the "eat the rich" canon. But as Cronenberg said, there's more there — the milquetoast, ineffectual James is on a journey of self-actualization as he repeatedly kills a self he is both disappointed in and disgusted with. He questions, and experiments with, the meaning of masculinity as he grunts, spits and punches — all while being coolly manipulated under Gabi's thumb. 

The question of identity is also an obvious subject, as one of Gabi's zombie clique questions whether any of them could be sure whether they're the originals, since their executioners could have theoretically swapped them out for their doubles at any point without their knowing. 

A distinctly Canadian stamp

With all that going on, you can tell this film needs you to know it's about something — which isn't inherently a flaw. When talking about a horror/sci-fi/fantasy/thriller, some level of symbolism and abstraction is expected. But Infinity Pool also bears the Canadian stamp of wanting you to guess at its inner workings almost more than it wants you to enjoy the movie.

At its most intense points, that avant garde nearly gets to The Reflecting Skin levels — the cult-classic but wildly polarizing British Canadian horror drama and "mythical look at childhood" that tells its story through spooky farmhouses, exploding frogs and a vampire named Dolphin. 

Though Infinity Pool doesn't quite go that far, it does have notes of it. That's fine for some people, but perhaps too muddled for general audiences: a Telefilm-like take on the decidedly simpler, but comparatively streamlined, Triangle of Sadness

It's at its worst when we witness the bacchanal, Eyes Wide Shut-style parties of the zombies. Other than Goth, the conspirators talk more like tropes than actual people, and feel more like spooky props in a haunted house than characters with motivation and development of their own. 

But even with these critiques, they're small potatoes in light of what Cronenberg has accomplished. With this as his third feature — and under the towering shadow of his father — he's cemented himself as a creator that stands on his own talent. And what he's created is decidedly original, another encouraging entry in a year that seems to be dragging the weird and the wonderful back into cinema after a decade of Marvel and recycled IP.

Because the worst thing a movie can do is bore you. And I think I can promise that for the entire confused, uncomfortable and shocked time you spend watching Infinity Pool, you won't spend a minute of it bored.


Jackson Weaver is a senior writer for CBC Entertainment News. You can reach him at jackson.weaver@cbc.ca, or follow him on Twitter at @jacksonwweaver


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Account Holder

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?