This review was originally published in conjunction with Infinity Pool’s premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. It has been updated for the movie’s streaming release.
Infinity Pool is the best horror-satire about Americans (and Brits, and one Austrian) abroad since Hostel. The hype surrounding the movie focuses on the depravity on display in Brandon Cronenberg’s follow-up to 2020’s Possessor, which is fair: The squibs are juicy, the nudity is full-frontal, and the psychedelic orgy sequence is extended. But there’s a trenchant point to all the blood, sex, and urine.
On the fictional island nation of La Tolqua, guests of the Pa Qlqa Pearl Princess resort are forbidden to venture outside the barbed-wire gates of the “compound.” And why would they? Pa Qlqa is a beachside paradise with its own Chinese restaurant and Bollywood dance performances. In the world of Infinity Pool, it’s a simulacrum of the world that allows tourists to feel like they’re getting an “international experience” without having to interact with anyone who doesn’t speak English. It’s the ideal tourist economy, everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
Stripping a place of its identity inevitably leads to stripping its people of humanity as well. That’s the appeal for a darker subset of Pa Qlqa regulars, who come to the island specifically to take advantage of a rule that allows foreigners to get away with any of the many crimes that carry the death penalty in La Tolqua. Blasphemy, drug possession, murder — all capital crimes, and all of them forgivable for the right price. (This is such a common practice, there’s an ATM in the police headquarters specifically for withdrawing payoffs.) This allows Americans like Gabi (Mia Goth), Alban (Jalil Lespert), and their friends to treat La Tolqua like a hedonistic playground where absolutely nothing is off-limits.
Gabi and Alban have a swinger energy. (Indiscriminate cuddling is what gives it away.) And indeed, they pull unsuspecting married couple James (Alexander Skarsgård) and Em (Cleopatra Coleman) into their wanton lifestyle using a “we saw you across the bar” type of tactic, only in this case, it’s “I read your book.” James is an author, and not a terribly successful one: It’s been six years since his first (and last) novel came out, and he and Em, whose rich dad bankrolls the couple’s lifestyle, have come to La Tolqua in search of “inspiration.” They’ll get it, but not in the way they were expecting.
James and Em agree to accompany Gabi and Alban on a secretive jaunt away from the resort and into the countryside of La Tolqua, a bizarre combination of tropical paradise and late Soviet-style decaying industrial state. Suffice to say that the outing leads to James and Em being interrogated by Detective Thresh (Thomas Kretschmann) in the crumbling concrete bunker that serves as La Tolqua police headquarters. There’s a sci-fi element to the country’s get-out-of-jail-free policy, which is best not spoiled here. To once again yadda-yadda past the details, the process blows James’ mind and shakes Em to her core, setting up a conflict that’s exacerbated by Gabi’s aggressive sexual advances on James.
2022 was a big year for Mia Goth, who seems to have found her lane as an actor through her dual roles in Ti West’s sex-soaked X and its bloody prequel Pearl. She performs in a similarly deranged register here — there’s no one in the game right now who can cackle maniacally while firing a gun quite like Mia Goth, and Cronenberg takes advantage of her gift for unhinged ranting throughout the film.
Skarsgård, meanwhile, plays the sub to Goth’s chaotic domme, pushing past his character’s initial discomfort to a primal place beyond both morality and impulse control. (Ironically, Gabi and her friends frequently refer to La Tolquans as “animals” while behaving animalistically themselves.) His head hangs limply on his neck, and his eyes glaze over as he spits maraschino cherries at disgusted resort guests and crawls on all fours wearing a dog collar.
Infinity Pool spins out into body horror as its decadence grows more psychedelic, thanks to a drug called “ekki gate,” which Gabi reassures James is the only hallucinogen allowed in La Tolqua. (“It’s a religious thing,” she says.) The parallel between this plot point and Americans going to South America to sample ayahuasca is telling. So are the orgies: There’s a chain of hotels in Jamaica called Hedonism II that advertises itself as a place where couples can go to fulfill their wildest erotic fantasies — all inside the safety of the resort, of course.
There’s also a thread in the movie about toxic masculinity and “domesticated” Western men seeking to “free themselves” through violence and subjugation — a theme that’s especially resonant in the wake of famously misogynistic influencer Andrew Tate being arrested in Romania on charges of human trafficking.
Cronenberg’s script for Infinity Pool is filled with dark, wry jokes, many of them laugh-out-loud funny. (Early on, Gabi says she’s an actress who specializes in “failing naturally” in commercials.) There are a lot of weird touches in this movie, and all of them serve a purpose; even the Leatherface-esque masks seen in the trailer have a dual function, enhancing the sense of depersonalization and evoking the commodification of native cultures. The only issue with the plot is that its climax is inevitable from the moment all is revealed. But, to be fair, the film is trimmed with so many shiny, violent ornaments that an overly complicated storytelling structure would have made Infinity Pool difficult to follow. As it is, the point is clear: A numbed-out cyclone of bottomless entitlement is the ugliest thing an American (or anyone from any other country) can be.