Neck and neck with “memory movies” from aging auteurs is a new spin on eat the rich: approaching the 15th anniversary of the collapse of the global economy, more and more movies and television shows are using the “one percent” as cannon fodder. I’m surprised it took this long—Adam McKay had to prime the pump with his “explainer” movies, The Big Short and Vice, put together like live action CliffsNotes starring an ensemble of beautiful movie stars. Two years after Occupy Wall Street fizzled out, Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street thrilled audiences and made hundreds of millions of dollars; in that film, the worst that happens to Leonardo DiCaprio’s Jordan Belfort is a slapstick quaalude routine. Belfort, a real person, is surely punished in the movie, but I don’t remember, because that wasn’t the point of The Wolf of Wall Street: movies were still reveling with rich people.
If you pitched a movie about Belfort today, a pile of bodies and even some cannibalism would loosen the purse strings a lot quicker than any kind of mutual debauchery. HBO’s Succession, which debuted in the summer of 2018 and remains the best of this contemporary sub-genre, throws all of these other projects into sharp relief: The Menu, Bodies Bodies Bodies, Triangle of Sadness, Ready or Not, The Hunt, Big Little Lies, and The White Lotus are all exceptionally gory in parts, all with broader, blunter screenplays than the deft, sharp writing on Succession. (Ditto Rian Johnson’s Knives Out series, sans gore.) The Roys may have bodies, but Succession is far from a remake or even a twist on The Most Dangerous Game. At this point, the trend is running on fumes—at least until Succession returns for a fourth season this spring.
Infinity Pool, the new film by Brandon Cronenberg, is yet another entry, but even more specific: a White Lotus riff. Alexander Skarsgård and Cleopatra Coleman are affluent—Americans? Canadians? Europeans? Does it matter?—on vacation in an unnamed, fictional foreign country. Guests are strictly forbidden from leaving the resort grounds, but after they meet fellow guests Mia Goth and Jalil Lespert, they’re persuaded into borrowing a car and going dancing somewhere in town. On the way back, Skarsgård hits a man on a dirt road, mortally wounding him. As the vagrant twitches, Mia Goth insists they leave and that the cops will just rape the women and execute the men. They finish off the poor guy’s twitching, go back to the resort, and Skarsgård throws up; assured by Goth that everything will be taken care of, special police arrive at the couple’s room and bring them to headquarters.
Everything outside of the resort is a comic book version of a “hostile country,” somewhere either Soviet or Arab: dirty, gray rooms where people are held indefinitely without charges, until they’re offered the chance to be absolved of their crimes by paying for the police to clone them so that the clone can be executed by the state or a member of the deceased’s family. In this case, Skarsgård’s clone must face death at the hands of nine-year-old and 13-year-old boys. A wealthy writer with only one drippy book under his belt and a rich wife, the couple agree, but the police insist the couple watch the execution. Coleman’s horrified as her husband’s clone is stabbed dozens of times in the abandon by a young boy in a makeshift gymnasium, but in a thrilling shot that pushes into a closeup, Skarsgård’s poker face breaks a few time into an exhilarated, goofy grin.
It’s a very funny premise for a movie, and one with more meat than Triangle of Sadness: after his wife flees, Skarsgård stays behind with Goth and the gang, and they spend countless days and nights having orgies and committing crimes and getting caught and paying for clones and watching them get executed. One of these fun days at the gym is revealed in a very funny point-of-view shot after we first see Skarsgård getting cut up by the kid. They might as well have popcorn in the stands. This group of rich degenerates is more fun and more active than the inert NPC’s of Triangle of Sadness, a movie without a pulse, but Infinity Pool gets windy whenever Goth or the local police start talking about protocol and what’s forbidden and what’s not. I don’t like body horror at all, and unfortunately Cronenberg has inherited the taste for it from his father; but three feature films in, at 43 years old, he’s begun to establish a slightly more pop spin on the elder Cronenberg’s fascinations.
I liked Infinity Pool a lot more than David Cronenberg’s Crimes of the Future from last year, a movie with one of the most ugly color palettes in recent memory, done far better by the man himself in 1999 with eXistenZ. But it’s a pulp movie, hilarious and bracing set pieces paced without a bump and some fine images, particularly the last one of Skarsgård choosing to stay behind during monsoon season, a degenerate unable to leave his personal purgatory, a violent Solaris. Goth gets the chance to wave a gun and fire it plenty of times, and everyone looks beautiful. Unlike Senior Cronenberg’s films—I guess—there isn’t as much to mull over afterward. Whatever: Infinity Pool is a fun and funny movie that moves along mercilessly as Skarsgård descends into torment. His first line is “Where are we?” and he spends most of the movie mute, or barking, like when one of his clones is eating him alive while wearing a dog collar. Do you need a “why” for orgy montages or hysterical and baroque execution scenes?
Infinity Pool is a paperback film, and better than most of the others in the kill the rich trend burning itself out right now.
—Follow Nicky Smith on Twitter: @nickyotissmith