At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Infinity Pool “2023”

At the Movies with Alan Gekko: Infinity Pool “2023”

MPAA Rating: R/Genre: Sci-Fi Horror/Stars: Alexander Skarsgård, Mia Goth, Cleopatra Coleman, Jalil Lespert, Amanda Brugel, John Ralston, Jeffrey Ricketts, Caroline Boulton, Thomas Kretschmann/Runtime: 118 minutes

I think it’s safe to start this review off dear reader by letting you in on a little secret. That being that, contrary to what psychology classes of both the high school and college varieties may tell you, there are at least three distinct levels of insanity. Those being the regular insanity, balls to the wall insanity, and the Cronenberg level of insanity respectively. The latter, for those of you who don’t know, is a special kind of insanity found only in films made by either David Cronenberg or his son Brandon and is best defined as a type of insanity that you cannot keep restrained let alone be able to put an exact designation on. In fact, all I can tell you, after my own research you understand, is that this insanity is very much a mind-twisting, neon-drenched, waking nightmare that is full to the brim of twisted images, a fair amount of blood and guts, and also a hint of the ominous thrown in for good measure. The reason I bring this up to you dear reader is because David Cronenberg’s 3rd slice of cinema, 2023’s Infinity Pool, is every single one of those ingredients and more. So much more. I mean I know that, by this point in the grand saga of cinema as an art form, it has become increasingly difficult to be able to find a slice of cinema that is no more or less original, but honestly I am more than prepared to say that this film is not like any film that I have ever witnessed in my time as either a reviewer or as a casual movie goer. Not just in terms of narrative or style, but also in what is presented to us throughout this film’s 118-minute runtime.  Suffice it to say that there is no denying that it might go a bit too far for its own good at times, but with the aid of quite potent work on both sides of the camera I can easily say that this slice of cinema is more than just a brilliant example of the Cronenberg insanity come to life. Rather, it is also a wonderful case in point that sometimes the best kind of movie is the one that is willing to take you to locales you could never have imagined going whilst never once does it choose to express regret for any single thing that it chooses to show you along the way.

The plot is as follows: Taking place in a fictional country known as Li Tolqa (a place I can immediately tell you is to the right of Wakanda, but south of Shangri-La), our narrative gets underway by introducing us to our hero, a man by the name of James Foster. James, we are rather quick to learn, is a novelist of some degree of renown and yet who has also found himself unable to give the world a second novel….for the past 6 years. As a result, we see that he, with his wife Em along for the ride, has made the choice to come to a seaside resort on a sort of vacation in the hope that it will finally prove to be the thing to break his severe writer’s block and get him back in the saddle again so to speak. Yet although the trip at first seems like it is going to be yet another waste of time in that endeavor, we see that things soon take a turn when our hero meets a young woman by the name of Gabi Bauer. A woman who, among other things, actually happens to be a fan of his first book and would love the opportunity to get to spend time with as well as get to know her favorite writer better (no not in that way). As a result, we soon see that both James and Gabi, with their respective significant others in tow, decide to head out on a highly discouraged excursion of sorts off the resort compound and to the beach for a whole day of fun in the sun….oh and with quite a bit of drinking as well. Unfortunately, it isn’t long before what had been a genuinely fun outing with a pair of new-found friends swiftly and without warning takes a turn for the nightmarish when, on their way back to the resort, we see that James, whilst at the wheel of the car, accidentally hits and kills a local man. Of course, it should come as no surprise to learn that it isn’t long before he is rounded up by the local authorities, arrested, and told that La Tolqa has some serious laws on the books for this kind of thing. Laws that will undeniably see him sentenced to be killed for what he has done. Now normally you might be thinking “well that’s the end of this particular story”, but in this case that’s not entirely accurate. You see dear reader there is a rather distinct….escape clause the country’s government offers that our hero could decide to utilize….if he has the means to do so. As for what this escape clause is to say nothing of the psychological ramifications choosing to engage in it will come to have on our hero those are things I think are best left for you to discover for yourself……

Now right off, it is worth pointing out that the work done behind the camera on this film is absolutely incredible. This of course starts with the terrific effort of helmer Brandon Cronenberg (son of iconic body horror cinema icon David Cronenberg) at the helm. Indeed not only has Cronenberg junior managed to duplicate his father’s skill at pushing just the right proverbial buttons in movie goers, but I think on some level he’s even better than dear ol’ Dad at times at truly getting under the skin of an audience as well. I say this because in this film we see that not only does Brandon Cronenberg bring a distinct chill factor to the proceedings, but unlike his father we see that there is not a trace of humanity to be found on screen. I mean make no mistake dear reader: every single character in this is unlikable. Yes, there are some who are a teeny tiny bit more decent than the rest like the character of Em, but otherwise they are all still fairly scummy at the end of the day. Along with that though, we see that Brandon (when the movie calls for it) also does a grand job with the aid of frequent collaborator Karem Hussain in the cinematography department at conjuring up moments involving certain substances that manage to be alluring yet nightmarish with even a hint of “what the heck am I watching?” thrown in for good measure. We also see that this film is the blessed recipient of a wonderful musical accompaniment from the gifted Tim Hecker. Indeed not only does the music set the mood right from the word go, but it also does an impressive job at contributing both to the rising terror and temptation in such a hypnotic way that it blends in quite flawlessly with what is occurring on screen. With all of that in mind however, there is one distinct caveat to it all that I do find a bit worrisome. That being that although this film makes the creative choice to establish this intriguing hook about how well to do visitors to other countries often treat the places they go on as if they are nothing more than a place where they can do whatever they want with little regard to the people who live there, it really doesn’t investigate that as thoroughly as it could have. Instead, this film chooses to take audiences down a really weird rabbit hole where the things you see and witness seem to have no purpose to their existence rather than to keep you on your toes….and to give movie goers further opportunities to make memes out of this film’s lead actress. To be fair, a few of the more iconic moments in the film do pop up in the final madness-laced third, but unlike other movies such as this helmer’s film Possessor from 2020 I really don’t feel like there is a motive to the madness other than “it’s a Cronenberg film so it HAS to be there”. Even with that bit of a hurdle in mind however, there is no denying that the work by the departments behind the camera here certainly bring a fantastic degree of both skill and craftsmanship in equal measure to the overall film.

Of course, it also doesn’t hurt this slice of cinema in the least that the work done by the talented cast of players in front of the camera is able to match the skill present behind the camera beat for bloody beat. Nowhere is this more evident than in the work done by this slice of cinema’s two leads. This starts with Alexander Skarsgård (son of Stellan and older brother of Bill) in the role of James Foster and honestly he is terrific here. I mean he portrays this character less like an upstanding gentleman and more like an expressionless, coiled, and very browbeaten individual who finds himself so excited about getting the chance to have a degree of power in his life, however small, that he is more than on board with demeaning himself if it means getting to be the person he has always aspired to be. Yet as the movie goes on and we, along with our main character, learn the cost of what it takes to continue to be that person we see that Skarsgård does a great job at really playing a guy who is very much trapped in a mess of his own making and who, if we’re being honest with ourselves, we’re not sure can make it out or if we even want him to in the first place. Suffice it to say it is a remarkable turn and one that definitely showcases proof of this man and his talent. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the main actress that Skarsgård is working with here happens to be Mia Goth who, in the past 2-3 years alone, managed to not only give audiences more incredible moments than most could ever aspire to, but who has showcased a phenomenal range as a talent. A feat incidentally that she manages to bring to this film as well. I say that because, in the role of Gabi, Goth does a phenomenal job at initially presenting this character one way with just a hint here and there as to who she really is as a person before finally deciding to just go as deranged and far out as she possibly can with this character with several moments that will leave your jaw on the floor as to what you are seeing her do on camera. Thus not only is this a performance that is not only both hypnotic yet quite menacing in equal measure, but further proof of Goth’s incredible talent as an actress. Suffice it to say that when you also manage to include a brief yet welcome turn here from Thomas Kretschmann (Baron von Strucker in 2015’s Avengers: Age of Ultron and Captain Englehorn in the 2005 King Kong) as a senior police officer who finds himself running into our characters at times throughout the film and who, in a darkly humorous way, comes off more like a glorified, long-suffering babysitter for these more than slightly unhinged individuals rather than as a officer of the law as well as dependable efforts by such talents as Cleopatra Coleman, Amanda Brugel, and Jalil Lespert among others it’s clear that this is one cast who were very much aware of the kind of movie they are making and as a result they all do an absolutely magnificent job with their respective roles no matter how big or small their screentime in the grand scheme of things might turn out to be.

All in all and at the end of the day I think it is a pretty safe bet to make that the slice of cinema that is Infinity Pool is most assuredly not going to be a film for everyone. To be sure, for those who are able to either get on this film’s wavelength or are already there, this film definitely is one twisted to the hilt cinematic odyssey that you will find yourself easily being drawn to say nothing of laughing when things get weird and being left with your jaw on the floor when you see some of the darker or unnerving components that this film is able to bring to the table. Even with that in mind though, I do feel that for a lot of movie goers out there this film is going to be the cinematic equivalent of the morning after a wild and insane bachelor/bachelorette party. A comparison I make because, like the examples given, you’ll most likely have a bit of a headache and you definitely are going to be left wondering just what in the heck did or didn’t happen and trust me when I say that what you remember will definitely be called into question. I mean don’t get me wrong dear reader: I don’t say this because I am of the belief that this film is an outright failure that is not in any way worthy of your time and/or attention. Rather, I say this because I feel that the oddness on display just isn’t able to blend together 110% successfully with the intriguing ideas that the film sets up early on in its runtime. Even with that disclaimer having been said though, there is also no denying that this is still most assuredly a very good cinematic effort all things considered. Indeed the work done behind the camera is an equal mix of grotesque, visceral, hypnotic, and fairly thought-provoking whilst the work done by the more than certainly game cast of players in front of the camera, with particular regard to the performances given by Alexander Skarsgård and Mia Goth, does their part by acting as your guides through this rather topsy-turvy world. Suffice it to say then that at the end of the day there is no denying that Brandon Cronenberg is definitely one of the more distinct voices in the realm of cinema and when this slice of cinema is firing on all cylinders there is also no denying that this film is most assuredly one of a kind in the best way. It’s only when you compare the work done here to that of other movies however that you discover that sometimes for a movie to work there needs to be a structure to the insanity for the insanity to work to the fullest. Make of that what thou will dear reader. On a scale of 1-5 I give Infinity Pool “2023” a solid 3.5 out of 5.