Couple’s trip turns trippy in unsettling but intriguing ‘Infinity Pool’

Horror whiz Mia Goth goes all-out in skillfully made, gruesome commentary on class.

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The manipulative Gabi (Mia Goth) invites some fellow guests on a forbidden excursion outside the resort in “Infinity Pool.”

Neon

Mia Goth might be more terrifying in writer-director Brandon Cronenberg’s deeply unsettling and memorably grisly “Infinity Pool” than she was in “X” and “Pearl,” and if you’ve seen “X” and “Pearl” that should run a little chill up and down your spine.

Not that Cronenberg, director of the disturbingly effective “Antiviral” and “Possessor” and son of body horror master David Cronenberg, has delivered a slasher film. This is more like a hallucinogenic version of “The White Lotus” as filtered through “Under the Skin” meets “Midsommar” — and the result is a dark, visually arresting, WTF of a movie with great performances by Goth, Alexander Skarsgård and the supporting cast. There are moments in “Infinity Pool” where it’s a test of wills to keep your eyes fixed on the screen, but beyond all the gruesome violence, Cronenberg’s screenplay is filled with sharply honed observations about culture and class differences, and some wickedly satisfying twists and turns. This is a film that is bat-bleep crazy but knows exactly what it is doing.

Skarsgård deftly handles the role of James Foster, a flailing novelist who looks like he’s in a Bond movie but behaves like a self-pitying man-child. James and his wealthy wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman) are on vacation in a fenced-in, heavily guarded resort in the fictional country of Li Tolqa, which appears to be impoverished and politically unstable and dangerous.

‘Infinity Pool’

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Neon and Topic Studios present a film written and directed by Brandon Cronenberg, Rated R (for graphic violence, disturbing material, strong sexual content, graphic nudity, drug use and some language). Running time: 116 minutes. Opens Thursday at local theaters.

The Fosters are near the end of their stay when they meet TV commercial actress Gabi (Mia Goth) and her architect husband Alban (Jalil Lespert). The insecure and vain James is flattered when Gabi says she loves the one book he wrote years ago, and James convinces Em that they should join Gabi and Alban for dinner in a Chinese restaurant outside the compound, even though such excursions are forbidden.

On the drive home, James strikes and kills a local farmer. He’s hauled off to the local jail, where police chief Thresh (a subtly scary Thomas Kretschmann) blows James’ mind (and ours) when he explains that under Li Tolqa law, the punishment for manslaughter is death, with the victim’s eldest doing the killing “to preserve the family’s honor.”

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Alexander Skarsgård plays a novelist who gets caught up in the bizarre rituals of his vacation destination.

Neon

Ah, but there’s a loophole! The Li Tolqans have developed a cloning procedure known as “doubling,” by which criminals can literally watch their doppelgangers (memories and all) be executed. If you can pay the hefty premium attached to the procedure, all you have to do is bear witness to your own execution, and you’ll be free to go.

Hmmm, but maybe YOU’RE the clone now, and the person you saw executed was the real you. Who can say for sure? In any event, James emerges from the experience oddly unfazed, much to Em’s horror. While Em leaves the country as soon as she can, James stays behind and gets involved in some bizarre rituals, including break-ins, beatings, shootings and drug-fueled orgies, with Gabi and Alban and their small circle of friends. They refer to themselves as “zombies” because they’ve all been through the doubling experience at least once, and now they embrace it as a license to commit mayhem because, after all, they’ve figured out a way to achieve a certain kind of immortality.

Goth goes all-out as the manipulative and psychotic Gabi; at times it’s as if she’s channeling Robert De Niro’s Max Cady from Scorsese’s version of “Cape Fear.” Skarsgård gives a similarly brave and bold performance as James and various versions of James. “Infinity Pool” ends on a note that leaves things open to a sequel or perhaps a prequel, and the idea of that is equal parts frightening and fantastic.

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