The beginning of Brandon Cronenberg’s fever dream of a horror film, Infinity Pool, made me think of J.G. Ballard, of Joan Didion, of Denis Johnson—high-minded literary references that won’t quite prepare you for the phantasmagoria that’s coming. We’re in a remote island nation, at a tightly guarded luxury resort, where a rich tourist couple—gorgeous, restless—are on holiday. There’s an air of menace in the empty streets in town, signs of unrest kept barely at bay. Alexander Skarsgärd is James, a novelist with a generous wife, Em (Cleopatra Coleman), who is happy to keep him in expensive shirts while he seeks inspiration for a second book.
They’re bored near the end of their holiday when another guest—the fetching, wide-eyed Gabi, played by Mia Goth (who is now stealing every horror film she’s in)—lavishes James with praise, declaring that she loved his first novel and where’s the second? She and her slightly louche husband, Alban (Jalil Lespert), invite James and Em to dinner and then to a secluded beach outside the gates of the resort. This sequence is superb, drenched in sun, full of foreboding.
But God—prepare to cover your eyes. Cronenberg is the son of the auteur David Cronenberg, who made his name with outré body horror in films like Scanners, The Fly, and Crash, and there’s a dose of nepo-baby self-awareness and even one-upmanship in what Brandon puts on screen here. A close-up hand job on that beach is just the first thing you’re treated to and strikes me as rather quaint in retrospect. On the drive back to the resort, James hits and kills a local man with Alban’s car, and when the couples try to cover up the accident, the police arrest Skarsgärd and his wife. The hunky Swedish actor is great through all of this—horrified and panicked and all too ready to pay the police off when they offer him an out: For a stack of cash, they will clone him and let him observe his doppelgänger’s execution.
Movies like this have to build trust, and Infinity Pool, as it swerves into sci-fi and psychedelic drug tripping and orgies and viscera, does so expertly. The visuals are crisp, and the momentum of the story holds you as it takes you down its dark roads. There are ideas too: about moral impunity and colonisation and the doubling of the self and, well, mommy issues? I will admit that there are a couple of moments that I could not watch, gruesome shocks that may be calculated to lure you to a theatre to submit to them.
The whole thing is uncompromising and indelible: the sight of wealthy tourists wearing grotesque masks (traditional in the island’s culture) clings to you as a portrait of moral deprivation of a global elite. Goth taunting Skarsgärd with a handgun—unmoored and unhinged, delivering her lines with bloodlust—is a brightly lit nightmare. I stand by those literary references—though Ballard, who wrote better than anyone about moral decline, is the real touchstone here. (And Cronenberg is already adapting the late English author’s novel Super-Cannes as a TV series. I’m here for it.) I won’t forget Infinity Pool, even though I closed my eyes through a lot of it.
This article was originally published on Vogue.com