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“Infinity Pool” is a half-baked sci-fi satire

Brandon Cronenberg’s new film has its moments, but quickly grows monotonous.

<p>Playing Gabi, a temptress who lures James into an increasingly deranged lifestyle, actress Goth makes a meal out of her pivotal role.</p>

Playing Gabi, a temptress who lures James into an increasingly deranged lifestyle, actress Goth makes a meal out of her pivotal role.

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The upper class is having a moment. Between “The White Lotus,” “Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery,” “The Menu,” “Triangle of Sadness” and now “Infinity Pool,” caustic depictions of the wealthy seem to be especially in vogue right now. That said, even if its satirical targets are well-worn, one has to give “Infinity Pool” points for distinctiveness.

Set on an island resort in the fictional country of Latoka, the film follows James Foster, a failed novelist played by Alexander Skarsgård, as he desperately searches for anything resembling artistic inspiration for a new book. Upon meeting Gabi Bauer — played by Mia Goth — a young woman who claims to be a fan of his work, James seems to be struck by a kind of sexual desire that is curiously missing from his staid marriage to his wealthy wife Em Foster, played by Cleopatra Coleman.

On a drunken escapade with Gabi and her husband Alban Bauer — played by Jalil Lespert — the mood abruptly darkens when James accidentally runs over and kills an island local. Quickly incarcerated by Latoka’s tyrannical government, James is given the death sentence for his role in the local’s death.

However, Latoka’s government wants to avoid alienating wealthy tourists — so naturally the police offer James the opportunity to pay for the construction of an identical clone to be executed in his place. James hastily accepts, but mind-bending science-fiction antics ensue in the wake of his double’s state-sanctioned murder.

Ultimately, the film utilizes its high concept in the pursuit of fairly simplistic commentary on the behavior of the wealthy and privileged, especially in relation to the inhabitants of the foreign countries they happen to be parading through. In theory, thematic triteness is not an inherent issue, and originality is not a prerequisite for good filmmaking or cutting satire.

This lack of thematic innovation becomes more of a problem, however, in the face of a narrative that stubbornly refuses to go anywhere. The majority of the second and third acts of “Infinity Pool” consists of narrative wheel-spinning, the film alternating between montages of drug-induced hallucination and unsettling degeneracy. Most of these scenes are not particularly memorable or enjoyable, seeming to revel in extremity and psychedelia for the sake of shock value and little else.

The film is not aided by its notably off-putting visual approach. Eschewing the vibrant colors that populated the film “Possessor” — director Brandon Cronenberg’s last flick — “Infinity Pool” cinematographer Karim Hussain opts for a desaturated color palette and emphasis on shallow-focus close-ups that often render the film a real eyesore. It is difficult to enjoy a film when it is often actively unpleasant to look at, and if it is a deliberate artistic choice to emphasize the film’s brashness, it fails.

There are moments in which “Infinity Pool” does threaten to gain some juice. Playing Gabi, a temptress who lures James into an increasingly deranged lifestyle, actress Goth makes a meal out of her pivotal role. Injecting all of her scenes with deranged energy and potent sensuality, she brings substantial liveliness to the movie. Without Goth, the movie would run the risk of being a near-total slog.

The movie also features a handful of effective moments of violence. As the son of legendary body horror director David Cronenberg, Brandon Cronenberg likely has a knack for gruesome gore baked into his DNA. While nothing here matches the creativity of the carnage and creature design in “The Fly,” his father’s 1986 masterpiece, some moments do pack a visceral punch.

In spite of its occasional merits, “Infinity Pool” is fundamentally too monotonous of an experience to recommend. It is clear that director Cronenberg has inherited a penchant for extreme violence and high-concept science-fiction from his accomplished father. One can only hope that his next film replicates the quality of his dad’s output.

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