Rebirth is often considered a good thing.
A person has gone through some kind of trauma, perhaps; some collision with experience that leads to a fall. But if all goes well, they rise again, are born again, as better, wiser people.
Or so the theory goes.
Brandon Cronenberg’s “Infinity Pool” (R, 117 minutes, in theaters) takes rebirth in a different direction. Son of veteran sci-fi terrormeister David Cronenberg (“Scanners,” “The Fly”), writer-director Brandon C. (“Possessor”) depicts in “Infinity Pool” wealthy vacationers who go through Kafkaesque nightmares, only to emerge anew as unrestrained hedonists who enthusiastically engage in sadism, debauchery and murder. Why? Because they can get away with it. So, why not?
The film begins with James Foster (Alexander Skarsgard), a novelist with writer’s block, and his wealthy wife, Em (Cleopatra Coleman), on vacation at an island resort. Though the resort is exclusive, it is fenced in with barbed wire, and for a reason: The surrounding area is extremely dangerous, with rampant crime and corrupt law enforcement. The Fosters meet another vacationing couple, the free-spirited Gabi (Mia Goth) and Alban (Jalil Lespert), who, veterans of the resort, persuade them to break the resort’s rules and take off to see the rest of the island.
If you suspect something might go terribly wrong, you would be right.
As with his daddy’s films (including 2022’s “Crimes of the Future”), the younger Cronenberg’s latest is unabashedly repulsive in its violence and gore (the film was reportedly edited to qualify for an R rating, with an even more graphic “director’s cut” no doubt on its way at some point). It’s the Cronenberg-family way to explore the dark, twisted side of humanity, and “Infinity Pool” is no exception.
It’s not everyone’s cup of tea.
But, again like the father’s work, this Cronenberg chiller arguably has loftier ambitions than to turn stomachs. Most obviously, “Infinity Pool” – like “The Menu,” “Glass Onion: A Knife’s Out Mystery” and “Triangle of Sadness” – is yet another commentary on the moral corruption of the wealthy. Here, we find, money allows people to live by a different set of rules than the rest of us, rules in which they aren’t held responsible for their actions. (Do I have to mention any real-life applications? Didn’t think so.)
But “Infinity Pool” digs deeper, and goes much darker, as it considers the spiritual and psychological rot of those who would succumb to this kind of temptation, and implies that this might apply to more people than we’d like to imagine. With this film, Cronenberg takes the concept of “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas” to its logical extreme.
As the central character, Skarsgard (an Emmy winner for HBO’s “Big Little Lies”) delivers a feverish performance as someone both emotionally bankrupt and yet on the verge of raving madness.
But this is Mia Goth’s picture. Goth’s astonishing portrait of insanity in last year’s “Pearl” should have earned her an Oscar nod (but didn’t). She is just as great as a different kind of monster as Gabi, a horror-flick version of a film-noir femme fatale: irresistibly seductive and diabolical, yet weirdly ordinary at other times. Goth takes the part and knocks it out of the … resort. *** (out of four), but with reservations.
** Click here for Tim Miller’s previous movie columns for Cape Cod Wave **
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Tim Miller is co-president of the Boston Society of Film Critics. He teaches film and journalism at Cape Cod Community College in West Barnstable. You can contact Tim at [email protected] or follow him onTwitter @TimMillerCritic. Or you can ignore him completely.