Infinity Pool is the third feature film from writer-director Brandon Cronenberg, whose previous efforts include 2012’s Antiviral and 2020’s Possessor. Yes, in case you didn’t know already, he is the son of legendary filmmaker David Cronenberg, and yes, both work in horror and sci-fi and do share some stylistic and thematic similarities. But the younger Cronenberg is very much establishing his own aesthetic as he moves forward, with Infinity Pool being the latest evidence of his own uniquely personal exploration of realities just adjacent to ours that are full of dread, psychological dysfunction, and bodily torment.
The film follows a couple named James (Alexander Skarsgård) and Em (Cleopatra Coleman) who are vacationing at a pristine, secluded, and extremely expensive resort that happens to be part of a totalitarian island nation. Guests are sternly advised not to leave the grounds and venture into the country outside, a rule that James and Em violate when they are lured out by another couple, the seductive Gabi (Mia Goth) and her husband Alban (Jalil Lespert).
What happens then becomes the stuff of nightmares: tragedy ensues as the foursome return from their illicit (and drunken) picnic, and James finds himself suddenly facing execution per the nation’s draconian laws. But there is also a catch. He doesn’t have to die himself—this bizarre country also has developed a technology by which a double, with all one’s memories, can be created and just as easily terminated to satisfy one’s sentence.
“It started with a short story I was writing, that just essentially was the first execution scene,” explains Cronenberg when Den of Geek chats with him and Goth on the eve of the film’s release. “So it started with the idea of doubling, and a double of yourself being executed and watching that execution. Then when I expanded it, I started to think about some experiences I had a number of years ago that partly informed the setting. Also some of the later J.G. Ballard novels that I was interested in started creeping in there. Those, to a certain extent, inspired some of the characters and psychology in the film.”
The setting was in fact inspired (as Cronenberg recently related on the podcast The Big Picture) by a trip he had taken years ago, on which a highly secured resort on a tropical island was surrounded (as is often the case) by a countryside full of abject poverty. Infinity Pool takes this to a logical extreme, where the super-wealthy can pay their way out of any crime by footing the bill for their double to suffer the consequences, meaning that no objectionable, offensive, or illegal behavior—even by normal standards, not just those of an authoritarian regime—is off the table.
That’s where Goth’s Gabi comes into view. The unofficial leader of a small group of amoral, hedonistic, privileged vacationers who indulge their most base whims with little fear of reprisals, Gabi immediately sets out to seduce James, both psychologically and sexually, and draw him into their circle.
“I received the script for Infinity Pool whilst filming Pearl, and originally I decided I wasn’t going to be reading anything at that time,” Goth says. “But it had Brandon’s name on it, and I was very excited by this. So I read it, and knew very early on that this was something I would want to be a part of.”
Gabi is the third ferociously provocative role that Goth has inhabited in less than 12 months, with the British actor winning acclaim for her turns in Ti West’s X and its prequel Pearl, both of which came out in 2022 (Goth co-wrote Pearl with West). In some ways, Gabi is a natural extension of those characters, with all three on a continuum that finds Goth exploring the limits of repression, decadence, and sexual coercion, a journey that reaches a dangerous endpoint with Gabi.
“It did occur to me that Gabi, particularly in the third act, in the final scenes… there were parallels between how unhinged and wild and feral she is,” Goth says while comparing the character to her previous, recent horror roles. “I definitely saw parallels there, between that and some of the things that Pearl goes through. But more than anything, it just felt like a gift to have the opportunity to continue exploring these really complicated, messy, wild characters. That’s far more interesting as a performer and for me, right now, that’s what I want to explore most.”
Goth, who played supporting roles in earlier films like High Life, Emma., and A Cure for Wellness, sees her recent spate of performances, which have elevated her into the realm of genre queen, and particularly the role of Gabi as a way to challenge herself onscreen.
“Her [seductiveness] and how she leads with that, that was one of the biggest challenges actually for me,” explains Goth. “How to tap into my own understanding of my own sexuality and my own [seductiveness] and really understanding what that looks like in a very real honest way. That’s really one of the best tools that she has in being able to lure James, Alex’s character, in.”
Some of Gabi’s actions in the film venture into NC-17 territory, so not everything makes it to the R-rated theatrical version (an uncensored edition will appear at some point). “Once I was able to tap into that and also empathize with her and understand where she’s coming from, and why she’s motivated to do what she does, I felt I was starting to get a better understanding of her,” Goth continues. “I think deep down, she’s quite broken and unsatisfied in her day-to-day life, and this is a way for her to find meaning in an otherwise really rather empty life.”
Although the casting of Skarsgård and Goth is a coup for Cronenberg, who has worked with actors like Jennifer Jason Leigh, Andrea Riseborough, Sean Bean, and Malcolm McDowell in his earlier films, he says that he doesn’t cast roles in his head as he writes his screenplays.
“I never cast while I’m writing because you never know who’s going to be interested or available,” Cronenberg explains. “Or you know, who’s going to have the right passport, given the way that production comes together. There are so many factors that guide you once you get into casting, in a pragmatic way. So yeah, I try not to get attached to any one particular person just while I’m writing the script.”
In addition to the talent involved, Infinity Pool is a visually more expansive and sumptuous production for Cronenberg, involving location shooting, more extensive visual effects and some elaborate psychedelic imagery. But with a limited budget and shooting schedule (25 days), the director—whose future projects include a “space horror” film called Dragon and a series adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s novel Super-Cannes—has managed to make his biggest, most thematically rich, and disturbing film yet.
“It’s not a small film, but it’s not like a massive studio film in terms of the time and resources available to us,” Cronenberg says. “So it was hectic from my perspective, just in terms of getting everything planned really well, so that we could do it in the timeframe. Fortunately, the cast were great and lovely, and everyone was game. It made it a lot easier that everybody was just willing to embrace what we were doing in a complete way and we were all really a team in a way that felt quite wonderful.”
Infinity Pool is in theaters now.