Infinity Pool

A ridiculous premise for a film about the consequences of our actions , transforms into an incoherent mess becoming more inconsequential as it goes along. “Infinity Pool” is a horror film with a science fiction conceit that gets completed wasted and turns the story into an examination of unpleasantness for no reason whatsoever. This could have been something interesting and important, and it gets less and less of each of those things the longer it goes on. 

Alexander Skarsgård is  failed novelist James Foster, on holiday at a resort, in a country trapped in poverty and full of the kinds of cultural improprieties that we are supposed to overlook to avoid ethnocentrism. The tribalism and cultural imperative of family honor requires immediate retribution for offenses committed in the nation. So go ahead and trust the people you just met, and venture outside of the resort enclave, meet people from the place you are visiting, and learn their quaint form of justice, except there is a get out of jail card. Maybe the wilder the idea, the more fun we can have with it, after all “Face Off” ,was a blast in spite of being completely bonkers. The problem here is that no one is having fun with the premise, instead there are pretentions of insight into human behavior. That might have also made for a good story, but writer/director Brandon Cronenberg leaves that on the table to wallow in excess revulsion. 

The idea of buying your way out of the consequences of your actions is an interesting one. What does that process do to a persons sense of self. Does guilt linger or vanish? Will your morality disappear entirely? These are great questions that the film asks, but it’s answers are muddled by a series of indulgent episodes that become increasingly boring and irritating. Mia Goth, who gave what I thought was a fantastic performance last year in “Pearl”, at risk of being trapped in the same kind of roles in the future if she keeps getting parts like this. She is great here, but her character is just a slightly different twist on the sick mind that cropped up in that earlier film. Her character Gabi, at first is mysterious, but quickly becomes tritely cruel and less and less interesting. 

A few examples of the pointless excess that Cronenberg has created here might help you understand why this movie is infuriating. Gabi gives James a reach around after a few hours of picnicking with James and his wife? We get to see his seed spilled on the ground. Why? The sense of unearned intimacy is probably what the writer is seeking here, but that is physical rather than emotional, and the emotional is where this movie needs to be working. The best character in the film when it comes to dealing with the questions being raised by the premise, is James’s wife Em,  played by Cleopatra Coleman. Unfortunately, she is removed from the film and the only characters that James has to measure his behavior against, are the ones who are indulging in the reckless excess that will turn off most of the viewers. There is an extended orgy sequence shot as if it is the “stars” sequence from “2001”. It goes on interminably,  the lights flash in different colors, and we see hazy images of people entangled in some sort of sexual behavior, but what it is will never become clear. Obtuse abstractness is supposed to be artistic in these moments, rather, it is pretentious diddling. One last thing to irritate you, there are grotesque masks worn by the characters during many of the scenes of violence and lasciviousness. They were introduced early on, without a clear explanation and the cultural symbolism is completely baffling. The art house sensibility can’t be masked by the fact that this is a horror film, it simply makes the film less frightening and more vaguely symbolic. I call bullshit.

There was another potential direction the film could have gone in, one that the director set up and then completely ignored. How do we know that the doppelganger is the one being executed? Maybe the accused has been replaced by the clone. If that is the case, is there in fact a redemption of guilt because the surviving “person” is in fact, blameless? That is an intriguing thought. Unfortunately, it is not the thought Cronenberg wanted to dwell on. Instead, we get violent and emotional cruelty. Trippy visual interludes don’t make the film deep, they simply fill in the time between unpleasant characters doing more unpleasant things. None of it makes any sense, and the symbolism is too trite to be taken seriously, much less understood. Somewhere some cineaste will write about this and make it sound like an artistic breakthrough, I’m sorry, they will be as full of it as this movie was. 


It was just six months ago that I saw “X”, which so far continues to be my favorite film of the year. At the end of the film was a teaser for a sequel, and lo and behold, here it is, just half a year later. Director Ti West is swinging for the fences and I approve of the effort, but this film is not an out of the park homerun like it’s predecessor. It is instead a long fly ball to center field that misses the fence but gets you standing for a couple of seconds, thrilled at the prospect if not entirely happy with the result. “Pearl” is not essential to the original story, but it is an interesting trail to follow and there are some great moments to recommend it, even if it isn’t a true gem.

West has a take on these films that I think is really interesting. He is modeling the style of the movie to the times that it is set in. This worked extremely well in the 70s based “X”, with it’s grungy porn milieu and pacing like a slow burn horror film of that decade. “Pearl” is set in 1918, and the silent films of that era are a little hard to model your film on and still use modern equipment and storytelling. This is not a silent film, but it is a melodrama with over the top moments, long pauses on a frame in anticipation of an action, and some cutesy cinematic moments to make the movie feel old fashioned.  In a spot on reflection, the pandemic of Spanish flu serves as a reminder that the Covid-19 situation we find ourselves in, was not the first time that paranoia lead to extreme behavior in trying to avoid the illness. 

In an isolated farmhouse, Pearl lives with a domineering mother of German descent, who frequently lapses into her native tongue when admonishing her daughter. Also in the house is her father, disabled by the pandemic in such a way as to lock him in a wheelchair and render him incapable of speech. At first Pearl seems the quintessential farm girl, talking to the cow and goat, both of which she has given names to. It doesn’t take long however to discover that there is something not quite right about her. In spite of her random moments of cruelty, we sympathize with her because the mother’s oppression seems overwhelming and Pearl does have a husband at war, who professes his love quite beautifully in letters that he writes to her from the front in Europe. Like many young women, she dreams of stardom on the screen, in her case as a dancer. Her innocent dress up and performance for animals in the barn or her mirror in the bedroom, are condemned by her mother and she is belittled for being foolish. Later in the movie, we discover that Mom has some idea of the issues that Pearl has. Did she foment those tendencies by her attitude toward Pearl, or did she develop that attitude as a result of what she saw in Pearl? We don’t quite know, but we do know it will come to a head. 

The writers of this film are the director and the lead actress, and they have made some interesting choices. For instance, the friendly projectionist might be a predator or simply a man who is looking for connection as a lonely bohemian. He does not take advantage of Pearl so much as she takes advantage of him. We get foreshadowing of this in a way that also warns us again that Pearl is not necessarily stable, despite her prim demeanor at times. When the violence starts, there is no doubt that it is coming from a dark place in Pearl rather than a reaction provoked by the people she encounters. At the climax of the film, the innocent and supportive character is the target of her delusion and rage and there is no excusing it. 

Over the course of the film, the techniques to mimic the era are less noticeable and successful. What seemed like a slow burn in the 70s era horror in the first film, feels like needless meandering in this melodramatic potboiler. Pearl pursues her dream with a distorted perception of the circumstances she is operating in. We don’t see all the girls that she is competing with, but we do see both her performance and her self reflection of that performance. There are fantasy inserts that might seem like they fit a late 1920s musical, but they are confusing in this story. Pearl’s imagination spills over into the real world, and I guess that is supposed to give us insight into how she is thinking, but it is an artistic choice that muddles the narrative. 

Just as things are coming to a head, and you think the film will finish on a conventional note, we get served a surprise that makes the whole movie worthwhile. Actress Mia Goth has been magnetic in the role up to this point, but she suddenly becomes hypnotic. She has a six or seven minute scene that is shot in one continuous take, never cutting to another character but always focusing on her. Like the great monologue from Quint in “Jaws”, we are pulled into a confessional story that is horrifying, revealing and compelling. Mia Goth holds us in her hand the way Robert Shaw did, for a full six minutes, and we will not be able to turn away. Look, this is a horror film done on a budget without a lot of economic impact on the film business, but if the people who give acting awards don’t take some notice of Mia Goth this year, they are in essence admitting that their awards are not for performance but for politics. This scene is both heartbreaking and horrifying, and it is all on Mia Goth in her voice and face. 

Nearly matching Mia Goth is actress Tandi Wright, who plays the Mother, Ruth. She is stern and frightening at times, but ultimately conveys that she is the one most frightened. The make-up, hair dressing and costumes turn her into visage of dominating truculence. She also has a moment of monologue that gives her a chance to shine. It is not as long and it is not entirely focused on her, but is is noteworthy and it is a great companion performance to Goth’s unhinged innocent. 

So, “Pearl” does not reach the heights that “X” did, but it is nevertheless a worthy follow up and it leaves me looking forward to the third film in the series “Maxxxine” which will be set in the 1980s and already seems poised to get that vibe correct, based on a short teaser at the end of this film. Maybe these movies are being made for a cult audience, I guess it turns out that I am part of that cult.  

X (2022)

If there are any other films that come out in 2022, that I enjoy half as much as this picture, I will count this as a good year, because this movie is awesome. The world is full of low budget horror films, but it takes something special to stand out and this movie has that “X” factor. Although it is filled with the tropes of a hundred other horror films, it manages to make them work and feel fresh. Some of this success is due to the great cast who work really hard to make this work, but a lion’s share of the credit will have to go to writer/director Ti West, who has taken this mash-up of genres and created something wickedly sly, fun, and creepy all at the same time. 

When you read about this film in other places, the two films that are likely to be referenced as the mash-up ingredients are “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “Boogie Nights”. Those comparisons are completely understandable because the premise of both films are contained here. A group of young people in Texas, go to a remote location and bad things happen. It also so happens that the reason they are in that location is to make a pornographic film along the lines of “Debbie Does Dallas”. It’s perfectly fitting to nickname this movie the “Texas Boogie Massacre”. The most delightful element of the film is it’s fidelity to both the pornography of the era it is set in and the horror films of that time as well. The events in the story are set in 1979, and the film makers follow the rules of a 70s era film rather than a 21st Century movie. This is a slow burn that foreshadows for an hour before the crazy starts. There are no real shocks in the first sixty minutes, but a mood of anticipation, dread and sadness hangs over everything that does happen. This is a movie style that I can get behind and feel like my time has been well spent, rather than rushing me through the horror and trying to escalate it every ten minutes. The delayed gratification was tasty.

Most horror films that are memorable have a subtext that also stirs the audience. The slasher films of the 80s are often filled with sexual awakening being tied into the terror. Paranoia and identity were subjects of some of the great science fiction based horror of that time period as well.  Recently, sexually transmitted disease was transformed into monsters of terror for horror films. “X” has several subtexts that make it more than a simple slasher film. There are a couple of these which are so unique that the film will evoke horror at just a thought of those elements, when they get pictured on the screen they are even more horrifying. Let’s start with the first and most obvious of these subtexts, sexual inadequacy. This movie stares into our insecurities about our sex lives and finds ways to disturb us with key questions about libido, promiscuity, and sexual adequacy. The young crew of pornographers that are shown on the screen are tussling over morality on occasion, but also the question of when is the sex in their movie real and when is it acting. Kid Cudi, who had a memorable secondary part in “Bill and Ted Face the Music” a couple of years ago, plays a stud called Jackson who is hired for the movie because of the size of his equipment. That appendage intrigues one character, intimidates another and it is treated indifferently by his co star, which sets him up for doubt as well. Everybody in this tale is getting a bit of a comeuppance before the violence starts.  The choices the characters are making feel like echoes of the choices made by the elderly couple that they are renting a boarding house from as the set of their movie. This is the territory of the second big subtext of the film, ageism.

The elderly in our culture are often ignored or treated as a joke by the younger generation. In this case, an old couple is regarded with some distain by the young film crew. One of the justifications for making the sex picture, that is given by one of the principles, is that you need to use it before you lose it (although not said in those words). In discussing the old man, one character suggests the old man has probably suffered from ED longer than one of the young girls has been alive. However it is the wife of the old man who really pushes the boundaries of our expectations, and the film makers know that the audience will find revulsion in the image of sexuality involving the aged. The characters will ultimately determine whether or not that instinctive reaction is justified. There are moments of great sympathy interspersed with scenes of depravity and maliciousness.

Skipping past the other subtextual issues, we should talk about the story telling techniques used by     

director West. If you watch the trailer above, you will see that the movie jumps back and forth between a widescreen format in natural colors and a 16mm format with saturated colors representing the film they are shooting “The Farmers Daughters”. This clever alternating of the styles of photography allows some parallel story telling and a bit of foreshadowing as well. The filming of the sex scenes is less titillation than it is character development, as we learn how the players relate to each other and what they are doing. The elderly woman becomes a counterpoint to the story being told about the film crew, not so much the film they are making.  Outside of that trick, there were a couple of other very nicely planned shots, including the opening shot which reveals more information as the camera lens exits a barn and takes in a wider aspect of the scene at the start of the movie. Another sequence is shot from a very high perspective and it allows the audience to know fear that the character in the scene does not even realize exists. We also get a twist on the shower scene from “Psycho”, without physical violence but almost as brutal in it’s emotional impact. I liked that there was a moment in the film when one of the actresses makes a suggestion about how to shoot a section of film, it feels like something the director of this movie might have had happen to him several times in developing a plan for the cinematographer. 

The characters of Lorraine and RJ represent a portal between the sex workers/actors and the traditional world. At first we might see their naivete as amusing, but there are morality issues that get raised in the story, but the moral may not be what you anticipate. Jenna Ortega who plays Lorraine is in her third horror film that I have seen her in this year. She is the first victim in the “Scream” reboot and she has a small part in “Studio 666” from just last week. She is an innocent being changed by the experience of helping make the film in the story. Own Campbell is RJ, the University film student who wants to transcend the genre with his script and directors choices, but he can’t escape his sense of  tradition in his own relationship and it tears him apart. Martin Henderson is Wayne, the entrepreneur who has brought the group together to fulfill his dreams of riches. Brittany Snow is the older and wiser actress Bobby Lynn, who is happy to have Jackson as a lover but not willing to concede that there is anything other than acting in her technique. The star of the movie however is Mia Goth, who plays a double role as Maxine the coke fueled stripper with dreams of celebrity and Pearl, who lives on the memories of her sexual past. The make up on this film is astonishing especially for the character Pearl. Stephen Ure, who has made a career out of being covered by make up in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, once again is hidden behind layers of effects make up that renders his performance appropriately creepy. 

On a side note, I saw the first hour and a half of this film, and then an alarm went off in the theater and all the cinemas were evacuated and they did not restart the films that were interrupted. The false alarm caused us to miss the last twenty minutes of the picture, which is when everything is coming together in a movie. My daughter Amanda coined the phrase “Horror Film Blue Balls” to describe our circumstances. We saw the complete film, twenty four hours later, so this perspective comes from seeing the film twice. The last line of the movie made me laugh really hard and solidified my opinion that Ti West knew exactly how to work his audience. The film did well financially this last weekend, but it would not surprise me at all that it improves on it’s box office next weekend, the word of mouth on this should be really strong and it deserves to build an audience. By the way, if you stay past the credits, you will see a trailer for a follow up film that will be coming in November. I can’t recommend this movie enough and I also strongly endorse sticking around for the stinger trailer. I don’t know what it says about me as a person that I liked this film so much, but I’m not worried about that enough to keep me from singing it’s praises.