Two Midnighters

Branden Cronenberg’s Infinity Pool (2023)

Opening in theaters tomorrow, Brandon Cronenberg’s Infinity Pool has been the unrivaled headliner in the Midnight program at Sundance. The anticipation can in part be chalked up to Cronenberg’s proven ability to build out compelling worlds from intriguing conceits. Viruses harvested from celebrities are copyrighted, cloned, and marketed in Antiviral (2012). In Possessor (2020), Andrea Riseborough plays an agent whose mind travels via neural implants into other people’s bodies in order to carry out assassinations for shadowy, high-paying clients.

There’s no denying that interest in Infinity Pool also has something to do with the fact that the director’s father is David Cronenberg. “Yes,” writes Rolling Stone’s David Fear, “you can certainly see the man who once made Shivers applauding this mix of sex, violence, science, class warfare, and crossed lines. Yet this White Lotus dosed with Orange Sunshine is laced with a rage, an edge, and a warped satirical sensibility that feels unique, and uniquely unnerving enough to kill talk of family coattails. Anyone who thinks a nepo baby made this is out of their fucking minds.”

James (Alexander Skarsgård) and Em (Cleopatra Coleman) are hoping to rekindle the spark in their moribund marriage by taking a holiday at a luxurious and isolated resort in the fictional state of Li Tolga. James is a writer whose poorly reviewed first novel, published by his father-in-law, appeared six years ago, and he’s been blocked ever since. The holiday brightens when a fan, Gabi (Mia Goth), along with her architect husband, Alban (Jalil Lespert), convince the couple to take an illicit joy ride beyond the gates of the compound.

James is at the wheel when their vehicle hits and kills an islander. The punishment is death—unless James can afford to pay for a clone of himself that will be gruesomely stabbed to death in front of his eyes. “Like the gloriously viscous process of creating the replicants, much of Infinity Pool might be funny if it weren’t so disturbing,” writes Jeannette Catsoulis in the New York Times. Writing for Sight and Sound, Adam Nayman suggests that “as a satire of Western exploitation and decadence, Infinity Pool feels like a spiritual sequel to the Hostel films (2005–2011), swapping out politicized Bush-era torture porn for a more ideologically anodyne (though no less viscerally crunchy) species of cautionary fable.”

“For a film filled with provocative and punishing imagery, it’s remarkable how little of it actually sticks in one’s mind once the credits roll,” finds the Guardian’s Benjamin Lee. “The ‘more is more’ approach (hallucinations, orgies, pissing, stabbing, shooting, splitting, piercing, etc.) is attention-securing in the moment but oddly forgettable after, like waking up from a nightmare you can’t remember. Infinity Pool is too hectic to truly haunt.”

At the A.V. Club, though, Jordan Hoffman finds that an “agreeable dose of Philip K. Dick (or Dead Ringers) is added when we’re led to question just which version of which character we’re seeing.” And for Hannah Strong at Little White Lies, “though it’s more heavy on vibes than plot, Infinity Pool is an atmospherical, grubby little downer of a holiday movie that takes on dark tourism and even darker desire with seductive, sickening style.”

Laura Moss’s birth/rebirth, the latest riff on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, “isn’t scary—it’s creepy,” writes Rolling Stone’s K. Austin Collins. That’s a problem for some critics, including IndieWire’s David Ehrlich, who finds that Moss and cowriter Brendan J. O’Brien’s “decidedly un-heightened approach—which reeks of early Cronenberg, but misses the detail and commitment that allows those films to sink into your skin—depends upon the same emotional reality that birth/rebirth sacrifices in order to screw its story together.”

Working alone in a hospital morgue, Rose (Marin Ireland) has been quietly conducting experiments in reanimation. She’s already brought a pig back to life, and when she catches wind of the death of the young daughter of Celie (Judy Reyes), an outgoing and beloved midwife, she runs a DNA profile and discovers that the dead girl is the perfect subject for the next phase of her project. She brings the body home. Celie follows, discovers the unconscious—but alive!—body of her daughter, and moves in with Rose.

“What gives birth/rebirth its dark, subtle, painful sense of humor,” writes Collins, “as well as its horror and its thoughtful gravity, is the sense that even the most profound problems of life and death can be approached like problems of science—that the act of trying to give someone you love more life can result in basic trial and error and scientific problem-solving, with grocery demands (don’t forget to steal us some amniotic fluid!) and to-do lists (don’t forget to let our little corpse watch her favorite cartoons!).”

It’s precisely “this pervasive and casual sense of extremity that will prove to be the dividing line between admirers and detractors of the film,” writes Chuck Bowen at Slant. “If Moss were to ever editorialize, allowing, say, an audience surrogate to pronounce Rose and Celie’s plans to be deranged, the spell would be broken and we’d be returned to the realm of the conventional horror film with overt villains. Instead, Moss follows two tortured characters down a pragmatic road to hell, understanding that their dissociation can be the foundation for either medical breakthroughs or profound callousness.”

Sundance’s Midnight program is “a broad church,” writes Deadline’s Damon Wise, “and in many ways the film’s ungainliness is part of its appeal, in the sense that one can infer its ongoing resistance to convenient genre tropes and feel reassured that a Twilight Zone twist isn’t waiting round the corner.” For Jessica Kiang, writing for Variety, the “superbly performed, enjoyably queasy birth/rebirth proves just how well the classic tale of scientific hubris and the desire to conquer death maps onto a gory maternity morality play, reanimating the truism that there’s little more (un)deadly than a mother’s love.”

For news and items of interest throughout the day, every day, follow @CriterionDaily.

You have no items in your shopping cart