Almost a decade ago, a young Andrew Korpan watched an episode of Gravity Falls where the main characters fall into a bottomless pit. Nearly 10 years later and I was transported back to being 12 years old again when watching Brandon Conenberg’s follow-up to Possessor, Infinity Pool; a film that’s just as bleak and repetitive as a bottomless pit (and a lot less comedic than the Gravity Falls episode). This film had everything going its way from its writer-director, leads Alexander Skarsgård and Mia Goth, and an interesting premise, yet it manages to fall completely flat. And the most shocking twist is that during a film under two hours, I constantly asked: Is it over yet?
James Foster (Skarsgård) is an author who has one novel under his belt. But as all writers do, he’s hit a hard writer’s block (over six years, to be exact). So much like the couple in Bergman Island, James, and his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman), take a vacation that will hopefully inspire James, just replace Tim Roth and Vicky Kreips for Skarsgård and Coleman and trips on the “Bergman Safari” for wearing masks that would put Eyes Wide Shut’s orgy to shame. The couple travels to a resort on the fictional island of La Tolqa, but as they soon find out, it’s a dangerous place outside of the grounds of the resort.
Enter, Gabi (Goth) and Alban (Jalil Lespert) Bauer — another couple the Fosters meet during their stay. The Bauers are yearly visitors of this resort, and Gabi just so happens to be one (of one) member of the James Foster Fanclub. After sheepishly introducing herself at the right moment, Gabi invites James and his wife out to dinner and the two couples get on quite well. So much so that the Bauers invite the Fosters on a trip to a beach off of the resort grounds. This is when a tragic accident occurs that teaches the Fosters the consequences of crime on this island. You have the choice to be executed or watch yourself be executed (if you can afford it). It’s mighty difficult to go any further without getting into spoiler territory, but I think that will suffice if you want to go in with some idea of what’s to come.
Towards the end of the film, there’s a very meta dialogue where a character reads a scathing review of James’ book. The review criticizes the writing for being pretentious and even raises the question of whether James is only able to get a book published thanks to his father-in-law. Whether this was meant to be a meta way of critiquing critics or not — it’s hard not to think of the “father-in-law” representing Brandon’s father David Cronenberg — Infinity Pool is not The Menu (nor is it Chef). It’s cool and all if you can point out your own hedonism, but what good does that ultimately do if you make a film so self-indulgent that still manages to be lifeless? And there are some “twists” that occur in the second half once it somewhat kicks into gear, but they all can be summed up by the simple question of what is real and fake. Well, to use a line from the great Benoit Blanc, “it’s just dumb!”
Even after writing out that synopsis, I read it and am somewhat intrigued by the concepts. That’s giving Infinity Pool way too much credit. No spoilers here, but the longer the film goes on, the more it feels like you’re in a time loop (and no, it’s not just because the film never ends). Like M. Night Shyamalan’s Old — which also took place on a spooky resort — the setup is interesting. But what happens once the people are on the beach? The film goes in more circles than a hamster on its wheel and you can’t care less about the inevitable “Shyamalan Twist.” Infinity Pool suffers from the exact criticisms of James’ fictional book in the film. Was that monologue just a way to try and soften the blow from critics? The world will never know. But I suspect that we ought to stop confusing auteurism for good.
As expected, there is some gnarly body horror in Infinity Pool. To its credit, those sequences do provide some much-needed adrenaline shots to keep you up amid the lethargic second half. But I don’t know. Ditto for the sequence inside the cloning chamber. It sparks a Moonage Daydream-like headache of a sequence that also occurs later in the film — thank goodness for the seizure warning before the film — but these sequences just feel like empty calories in an already stuffed meal.
It’s also a shame when the film throws away the talents of DP Karim Hussain and composer Tim Hecker. The score is oftentimes used to drown out anything else that’s happening on your screen. Hussain, on the other hand, does a masterful job framing the film — specifically the first part of a party scene — but is stuck with an awful hand (a.k.a. the film itself).
But what about Skarsgård and Goth? Many have given them their flowers, but this is a step down for the former after a stellar performance in The Northman. Goth was a revelation in 2022; breaking out in not one, but two films from Ti West in a matter of months. I’m not here to deny her talent, but after two straight performances where she plays a budding (or hopeful) actress — Gabi’s talent is naturally failing “un-failable” tasks — I’d hate to see her future roles only consist of “unhinged bitch” from here on out. She’s excellent, even in this film; it’s hard to ignore the recency bias of having just seen her in Pearl (and X to a degree) and not feeling a slight fatigue.
Infinity Pool is a tale of missed opportunities (you literally had the biggest queen in horror not named Jenna Ortega as your star). I think any fan of horror really wanted it to work, but what we got was such a dull and forgettable film that rarely justifies any of the talk it got out of Sundance. What a shame.
Infinity Pool is in select theaters now.