Review of “Infinity Pool”

Have you ever thought to yourself, “I’m so busy, I wish there were two of me”? It would be handy to have an identical version of you, with all your memories and experiences, that could help you in doing the mundane tasks of life. One of you could be at work while the other is mowing the yard, cleaning the house or doing repairs. You could send your duplicate with your spouse to the boring functions required by family or work. For those with nefarious ideas, one of you could commit a crime while the other provides a very public and airtight alibi. Of course, if your duplicate has all your memories, the question becomes which of you is the original? Does the duplicate have the right to go out on its own and live a separate life? Would you share the affections of your spouse with the clone? Is that infidelity or an alternate lifestyle? The possibilities and complications are endless. In the film, “Infinity Pool,” a man faces a similar situation that is further complicated by a new group of questionable friends.

James Foster (Alexander Skarsgard) and his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) are in an exclusive seaside resort in the country of Latoka. James is a struggling author looking for inspiration for his second novel after the first was little read and poorly reviewed. At the resort, James meets Gabi Bauer (Mia Goth) and her husband Alban (Jalil Lespert). They come to the resort every year while this is James and Em’s first time. The country of Latoka is poor and violent with the resort behind locked gates and high fences. Despite this, Gabi and Alban invite James and Em for an excursion in the countryside, stopping at a beautiful hidden beach. While there, the two couples chat, eat and drink wine. James goes off to urinate when he’s approached by Gabi who performs a sex act on him. As night falls, the four get into the car borrowed from a member of the resort staff to return. James is driving when the headlights begin to flicker and fail, popping back on just as a peasant walks across the road. The car hits and kills him. Fearing retribution from the local corrupt police, Gabi convinces them to hide the car and walk back to the resort. The next day, James is arrested by Detective Thresh (Thomas Kretschmann) and brought to police headquarter. Thresh explains the penalty for James’ crime is to be killed by the oldest son, who is 13, of the victim. Another option is James can pay a large sum of money and have a duplicate of himself made that share all his memories and the duplicate is killed by the boy. James and Em will also be forced to watch the execution. James opts for the duplicate and, after a process that takes an undetermined amount of time, James and Em are seated in a concrete room with the family of the man who was killed. James’ duplicate is tied to a post and the boy, carrying a large knife, is brought in. The boy stabs the double a dozen or so times, killing him. James and Em are then released. Em is disgusted by the display and by James watching emotionless, not noticing his slight smile as his clone dies. She plans on leaving as soon as possible, but James can’t find his passport, so he must stay until a replacement can be arranged by the US Embassy. Gabi and Alban approach James and invite him to a gathering of their friends. This group all share a secret: They have committed crimes in Latoka and had their death sentences carried out on their clones. Since they are wealthy, they feel untouchable, as there is no limit to the number of times they can be cloned. Soon James is participating in activities the group considers fun, like breaking into the house of a local official and stealing a recently presented medal. This new group of friends has no qualms about killing, using drugs, engaging in orgies or any other anti-social behavior as they can buy their way out of punishment. Is there a limit to what depravity James will do?

Directed and written by Brandon Cronenberg, son of David Cronenberg, I went into “Infinity Pool” expecting a dense, disturbing and mind-bending story, filled with vivid images and graphic violence. On that front, “Infinity Pool” doesn’t disappoint. There are murders carried out in various brutal ways, beatings, orgies and more. The process creating the clones is a psychedelic trip of flashing lights, fleeting glimpses of images and deafening sound. The characters are dense and complex, showing sides of themselves only because they know they can buy their way out of trouble. It’s a rollercoaster ride of debauchery on every level.

However, I’m not sure what I’m supposed to take away as the meaning or message of “Infinity Pool.” Are we merely supposed to learn that a lack of real consequences leads humans to behave in abominable ways? Is that all there is? Exposing this dark underbelly of psychotic behavior should have some deeper, darker message. We already know there are two sets of rules, two types of justice for the wealthy and the poor. The rich can afford the best lawyers, the best experts and the most delays to avoid punishment. The poor must use overworked and underpaid public defenders and don’t have the resources for extra genetic testing or outside experts to advocate on their behalf. The inequities of our judicial system are on display every time we watch the news.

Perhaps we’re merely supposed to enjoy the spectacle of excess and debauchery, all the while expecting this group of mostly horrible people will get their comeuppance in the end. Those wanting the cinematic universal gods to balance the scales of Right and Wrong will be disappointed by the outcome. We are left with some puzzling decisions by James as the film comes to an end. It all amounts to an odd “See you next year.”

The performances by Alexander Skarsgard, Mia Goth, an underutilized Cleopatra Coleman and the rest of the cast are appropriately ethereal and disturbing. Skarsgard’s character gets put through the emotional wringer, while Goth is at time angelic and completely unhinged. Coleman is supposed to be the moral anchor of the film but she’s in less than half of it. Skarsgard’s decent into depravity quickly becomes the feature we’re supposed to pay attention to. While his performance is great, I would have liked to see more of a counterpoint, showing how his falling for this Bacchanalian lifestyle has negative effects on his wife Em. Perhaps Cronenberg was more interested in including another scene of violence or sex than showing any judgement for James’ actions. While the rancid behavior eventually wears on James, there isn’t any significant punishment.

“Infinity Pool” is rated R for graphic violence, disturbing material, strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and some language. There are so many instances of graphic violence I won’t try to list them all. There is a scene of implied sexual activity with no nudity. There are flashes of nudity in the making of James’ duplicate. There is a scene of an orgy showing sex acts between men, women and all combinations. There is also a scene of a character suckling a bare breast. Foul language is surprisingly scattered.

I knew I wouldn’t fully understand “Infinity Pool” before I went in. Brandon Cronenberg, much like his father, operates on a level all his own. He’s not going to spoon feed you stories and meaning. You are supposed to work it out on your own. I appreciate a filmmaker that challenges the audience, but give us a fighting chance to understand “The Point” of your creation. With “Infinity Pool,” the meaninglessness may be the point, but I’m thinking I just don’t grasp what the Cronenberg is trying to say. That doesn’t mean the movie is bad, but that it’s just not completely for me. It is an engrossing work but doesn’t quite provide what I needed from it.

“Infinity Pool” gets three stars out of five.

Follow, rate, review and download the podcast Comedy Tragedy Marriage. Each week my wife and I take turns picking a movie to watch, watch it together, then discuss why we love it, like it or loath it. Find it wherever you get podcasts.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan.

Review of “Pearl”

Dreams change as we age. When I was younger, I wanted to be a doctor, fireman, astronaut, singer, actor and obscenely rich. Professionally I am none of those things. I schedule commercials for a radio station group, try to keep a handle on inventory and do monthly billing, among other things. Those dreams of my youth shaped the desires of early adulthood. I couldn’t be a singer, but that led me to working in radio. There are much worse jobs, and there are better ones. Still, my dreams guided me to where I am today because I learned the realities of how much talent, hard work and luck I would need to make any one of my early ambitions come true. I don’t consider what I do settling, I consider it reality. The title character in this week’s movie, “Pearl,” sees herself as an undiscovered superstar, but the reality of her average talent doesn’t shape a more realistic future, it shapes a more deadly one.

It’s 1918 and Pearl (Mia Goth) lives on a farm in Texas with her disabled father (Matthew Sunderland) and her stern mother Ruth (Tandi Wright). Pearl dreams of dancing on stage and in movies like the films she sees at the picture show. Ruth scoffs at Pearl, scolding her to do her chores and help take care of her father. Pearl resents Ruth for always crushing her dreams, so Pearl sneaks off to the picture show whenever she gets the chance. There she meets a handsome young projectionist (David Corenswet) who takes a liking to Pearl and compliments her beauty, inviting her to come knock on the side door any time to watch the movies for free. Pearl is smitten, but she is married to Howard (Alistair Sewell) who is off fighting in Europe during World War I. Pearl’s fantasies about stardom and fame are mixed with a casual cruelty towards small animals. She skewers a goose with a pitchfork and feeds it to the alligator she calls Theda, living in a small lake on their farm. When Pearl’s sister-in-law, Mitzi (Emma Jenkins-Purro) tells her about an upcoming dance team audition that would tour the state, Pearl sees it as her way off the farm she hates. What comes next is a deep dive into madness, violence and revenge.

“Pearl” is a prequel to a film from earlier this year called “X” about a group of young people going to an isolated Texas farm to shoot a porno video in 1979 and the violence and mayhem that ensues. “Pearl” lays the groundwork for what occurs in “X,” and “X” sets up what’s to come in the recently announced “MaXXXine.” All three films will be written and directed by Ti West and co-written by actress Mia Goth, who performs a dual role in “X” as the young porn performer Maxine and the elderly Pearl. It’s a whole universe of madness, violence and gore. I’m looking forward to seeing the third film in the series and if the filmmakers can continue to impress.

Mia Goth is the undisputed star of “Pearl.” Not only because she plays the title role, but she wrings every bit of emotion out of it. Goth performs a lengthy monologue as the final act kicks off. It appears to be done with very little editing. The camera is focused in close on Goth’s face, forcing the audience to experience all the hurt and madness of Pearl as she spills her heart out to her sister-in-law. Tears leave streaks of makeup down her face as she talks about her desire, her NEED to leave the farm, the anger she feels towards Howard for leaving her there, and the disappointment as she sees her dreams fading into a dull reality. It is uncomfortable watching as this young woman admits she is everything her mother said she was, that she doesn’t feel things the way others do, that she’s dangerous and confesses to her crimes. It is a mesmerizing bit of acting that, in a straight drama, would get serious awards consideration. Since it’s in a horror film, Goth will be ignored at Oscars time. That is a major indictment against the Academy and its ignoring of great performances in genre films.

“Pearl” is a film that thrives with atmosphere. You know something bad is going to happen because of its trailers and it’s a prequel to a horror film. But the feeling of sadness and dread as you watch this young woman spiral ever more into madness makes the violence, when it comes, that much more effective. There is plenty of gore and disturbing images in “Pearl” that are a requirement of the genre, but if that was removed, it would still be a fascinating film about the hopes and dreams of a young woman crumbling to dust before her eyes and how that destroys her. “Pearl” is both a horror film and a character study.

“Pearl” is rated R for some strong violence, gore, strong sexual content and graphic nudity. Most of the nudity is from a very old stag film the projectionist shows to Pearl. We see bare breasts and a man’s backside. There is also sexual activity shown but it is not graphic. Pearl engages in simulated sex with a scarecrow. Pearl impales a goose with a pitchfork. We don’t see the actual act, but the aftermath. A character is killed with the pitchfork. Another is killed via axe. A character catches fire and her charred skin and scalp are shown. A character is suffocated off screen. We see Pearl dismembering at least one victim with an axe, tossing a severed head to the alligator. A cooked pig is shown covered in maggots. There is no foul language.

There’s more going on in “Pearl” that just murder and mayhem. We watch a young woman experience the loss of hope, driving her, along with her psychopathy, to commit heinous acts. Most will only see the violence, but there is a serious commentary about how young woman are usually beaten down by society and the education system. We view them as only sexual objects meant to please men, bare the children and clean the house, and we work to destroy them when they step outside of societal norms. Or maybe I’m reading too much into Ti West’s work and it is just a slasher film. Either way, it’s very good.

“Pearl” gets five stars out of five.

Follow, rate, review and download the podcast Comedy Tragedy Marriage. Each week my wife and I take turns picking a movie to watch, watch it together, then discuss why we love it, like it or loath it. Find it wherever you get podcasts.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan.