Friday 31 March 2023

Double dip: "Infinity Pool"

The critics have got
Infinity Pool about right. It's not as potent as its writer-director Brandon Cronenberg's breakthrough, 2020's jolting Possessor; indeed, it feels as if two half-as-potent ideas were stitched together at a crucial juncture in the project's development. Yet it gives it a fair old swing, and of all the eat-the-rich screeds that have washed up on these shores in recent times (TV's The White Lotus, Triangle of Sadness, The Menu, the one with Ralph Fiennes and Jessica Chastain nobody much bothered with), it's the one where you feel something truly, irreversibly awful could befall its main characters at any given moment: it gives good dread. Once again, we find Cronenberg overseeing a violent scrambling and reconstitution of the self. Creatively and emotionally frozen writer James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård, at his most frostily handsome) numbly observes the resort vacation designed to revive his flagging bond to wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) turning into a nightmare after he a) falls into the clutches of fellow guest Mia Goth and her spectral eyebrows, and b) finds himself behind the wheel of a car involved in a late-night hit-and-run. Taken in by the local authorities, he discovers one of the perks of being a moneyed white Westerner: paying for the creation of a physical double who will then be subject to a form of capital punishment, in this instance being stabbed to death by the eldest (though still pre-teen) son of the real Foster's victim. This is Clan Cronenberg's equivalent of watching on at your own funeral, and (for Foster) a neat way out of a terrible snafu - except that it also marks our hero's entry into an international elite of degeneracy, all too aware they can roam from place to place, commit the most heinous crimes, and use their vast personal resources to buy their way out of any trouble. The film is at once beyond the pale and aggravatingly close to 21st century reality.

It's also a mindfuck, but it's one of the better contextualised mindfucks in recent cinema history: the right architecture is in place to guarantee a bad trip. Cronenberg is both careful and clever about (de)positioning the resort, with its Far Eastern name and entertainments and its Mitteleuropan accents and scenery. (The film was mostly shot in Croatia; the insinuation is that dystopia is everywhere now.) Cinematographer Karim Hussain gathers up unnerving images: a sea resembling TV static, covert glances at the rusting infrastructure necessary for a privileged few to keep on living the life of Riley. Narratively, however, Infinity Pool bogs down, partly because Cronenberg's screenplay starts to pen itself in. For a while, at least, the film appears open to the possibility that this macabre experience will awaken something positive in the heart of our altogether glazed protagonist. (You wonder whether Cronenberg has his sights set on David Fincher, and delivering an X-rated rethink of The Game.) Yet the second half comprehensively shuts that possibility down, instead coming at you in ever greater waves of depravity. The more Foster realises he's got away with something, the more he realises there's more to get away with: homewrecking in multiple senses, orgies, self-abuse, self-annihilation. Possessor presented as a future key text in gender studies, observing as it did a deathly battle of the sexes taking place within the one body. Infinity Pool may end up on the final-week schedule of Psych 101, but it's much harder going, deadening where its predecessor was electrifying. (One issue: Skarsgård is so convincingly zonked in his sociopathy that it's like trying to empathise with Grant Shapps.) And you keep catching the director struggling to make room for himself amid a crowded field: one especially unbridled free-for-all reminds you of the shunting setpiece in Brian Yuzna's Society, only without the yucky glee, while Foster increasingly resembles the rootless Tim Roth character in the recent Sundown. Cronenberg is committed, unlike the many jokers and smirkers who've broached similar material of late, but the movie gets mired in its own dissolution.

Infinity Pool is now playing in selected cinemas.

No comments:

Post a Comment