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Nathan Weinbender reviews " Infinity Pool"

The DNA of David Cronenberg is coursing through the veins of Infinity Pool, and in more ways than one. The film was written and directed by his son, Brandon, and perhaps it was inevitable that the guy who made certified sicko classics like Videodrome and Crash would have imparted an appreciation for the sick and twisted to his children. But it seems fitting to speak of DNA because both Cronenbergs share a fascination with the biological: Infinity Pool not only features every bodily fluid imaginable, but it’s also grappling with more cerebral questions about bodily autonomy and what makes you you.

Whether or not the movie succeeds is another story. This is a movie dripping with gore, stinking of death and positively grinning from ear to ear as it obliterates all sense of good taste. And yet its attempts to wallow in perversity are somehow kind of dull. Maybe I’ve seen too many weird movies.

It’s set in a posh resort where James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård) and his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) are vacationing. He has published a single novel and has been wracked with writer’s block ever since, living off his wife’s family’s fortune. One morning, he meets a British tourist named Gabi (Mia Goth) and accepts a dinner invitation with her and her husband (Jalil Lespert).

Things go south quickly. James hits a guy with a car they’ve borrowed and is hauled into jail under penalty of execution. But he discovers that, for a price, the government will clone you, implant the clone with your memories and execute it, so that a version of yourself can still be punished for your crimes.

Watching himself be executed unlocks something in James, who has now entrenched himself within a group of wealthy people who have embraced this legal loophole and treat the island as their own violent playground. To them, hedonism is an almost intellectual exercise, and a night of murder and mayhem is always in order after a few cocktails.

We’ve been getting a lot of vicious allegories about the worst impulses of the idle rich, and Infinity Pool is another. But whereas Triangle of Sadness was big and broad and The Menu was bitingly satirical, this one is more of a waking nightmare, as twisted and distorted as the deformed masks that become a visual motif. It has also been made with terrific style, and it features another scene-stealing performance by Mia Goth, who once again leans into the meanness of this material.

I imagine a lot of reviews of Infinity Pool will read like inventories of grotesqueries, but those details make it sound like a much wilder and more hilarious ride than it ends up being. Cronenberg seems to be arguing that, in the absence of law, order, decorum and consequence, we as a species will always revert to our most animalistic instincts; either we’ll turn into growling beasts or groveling babies. It’s dispassionate, detached but also thuddingly literal, and while it would like to be sensationalistic and shocking, it’s almost too acidic for its own good. Its tongue is firmly in cheek, and that cheek is filled with blood.

Nathan Weinbender is one of the film critics heard on Spokane Public Radio’s “Movies 101,” Friday evenings at 6:30 here on KPBX.