'Infinity Pool' Sundance Review – Horror Pushes Its R-Rating – Bloody Disgusting

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For his third feature outing, Writer/Director Brandon Cronenberg returns to the deep well of surreal, grotesque sci-fi horror. Cronenberg doles out heady, warped horror at the resort-set Infinity Pool, with its title a clue to the vanishing edges of reality. While more accessible and linear than the filmmaker’s previous effort, it’s no less compelling, audacious, and extremely violent.
James Foster (Alexander Skarsgård) hopes to find inspiration for his second novel at the all-inclusive resort in Li Tolqa with his wife Em (Cleopatra Coleman). Instead of jump-starting his writer’s block, the couple winds up lazing around the pool and enjoying the comforts of the resort nestled in a country dangerous for tourists. That is until he meets Gabi (Mia Goth), a massive fan of James’ sole novel. Gabi and her husband Alban (Jalil Lespert) entice James and Em on a day trip beyond the barbed wire fences of the compound, resulting in a tragic accident that leaves James at the mercy of the authorities. Punishment is swift and severe, but the loophole that allows James’ freedom begins a cycle of violence and debauchery.

Straightaway, Brandon Cronenberg instills an off-kilter, satirical vibe with his fictional setting. Aside from the heavily guarded walls of the resort, its hosts regale guests with local customs while donning masks of twisted, deformed flesh. Then there’s the enigmatic Gabi, a charismatic seductress that knows just the right things to say to appeal to James’ vanity and ego.
It begins the constant push and pull of tension like an infinite loop of increasing madness. The suspenseful encounter with the locals’ harsh laws is only merely a catalyst for the trippy erosion of James’ ego, vanity, and privilege. Emphasis on trippy; whether through sci-fi means or drug-induced orgies, Cronenberg merges body horror and sexuality in increasingly bizarre, hallucinatory ways that push the boundaries of the film’s R-rating.

It’s not just the shocking escalation or Cronenberg’s approach that keeps Infinity Pool so engaging and occasionally repulsive, but the committed performances by Skarsgård and Goth. The increasingly complex layers added to James and Gabi reveal there’s far more to Infinity Pool than simply the rich eating the rich. Skarsgård toggles between extreme vulnerability and primal rage. At the same time, Goth progresses her character’s devious machinations with a scene-stealing level of unhinged glee that might give Pearl a run for her money. The scene-stealer showcases her comedic chops that make her feel all the more dangerous. Together, the pair take their characters to places that never fail to leave your jaw on the floor- again and again.
On a surface level, Infinity Pool feels like Brandon Cronenberg’s version of The Aristocrats, a long-running, taboo-defying joke told by various comedians. It’s as starkly funny as it is shocking. But it’s much more incisive than a wild depiction of the badly behaved upper class. As its title suggests, the longer James gets caught up in the madness, the more his edges and identity blur. That means the movie is almost certain to be polarizing. But Cronenberg’s sense of style, paired with an unrelenting sense of dread and tension and two utterly captivating, depraved leads ensure these provocative waters are well worth wading into.
Infinity Pool made its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and releases in theaters on January 27, 2023.

‘In My Mother’s Skin’ Sundance Review – An Ambitiously Grim Horror Fairy Tale
‘Talk to Me’ Sundance Review – A Violent Supernatural Cautionary Tale That Leaves You Breathless
‘Run Rabbit Run’ Sundance Review – Aussie Horror Drama Is ‘The Babadook’-Lite
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Squelching sounds radiate over a dark screen as we fade in on a humanoid creature chowing down on a victim’s throat. After pulling away and exposing an inhumanly long tongue, the creature begins to gag, vomiting up a small black bird. So begins Kenneth Dagatan‘s In My Mother’s Skin, a horror fairy tale that will undoubtedly draw comparisons to Guillermo del Toro’s 2006 masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth, but has a much more sinister side in store for audiences who are willing to sit through its more deliberately paced plot machinations.
Set in the Philippines at the end of World War II, In My Mother’s Skin follows the story of Tala (Felicity Kyle Napuli), a 14-year-old daughter of a textile merchant who lives in a war-worn colonial house with her sickly mother Ligaya (Beauty Gonzalez) and younger brother Bayani (James Mavie Estrella). Under suspicion of stealing Japanese gold, Tala’s father mysteriously leaves to barter for his family’s freedom, and his family finds themselves left to their own devices. While exploring the forest one day, Tala crosses paths with a mysterious fairy (Jasmine Curtis-Smith) who offers her a chance to cure her mother with a magical insect. She offers a word of warning before handing over the bug but, desperate for her mother’s survival, Tala ignores the warning and gives her mother the cure. This leads to disastrous consequences for her and her family.
This is a personal project for Dagatan, whose grandfather was a guerilla soldier during the Second World War. Leaving his family behind in order to fight invading Japanese soldiers, his wife stayed home to care for their children, not knowing when or if he would return. Dagatan personifies that trauma into a flesh-eating fairy, crafting a creature reminiscent of a djinn in its methods but unique in its appearance.
In My Mother’s Skin has all of the right ingredients, technically speaking. The production design of the house, as well as the surrounding forest, is truly stunning. SiNg Wu’s ominous score looms over every frame, foreshadowing the horrors yet to come. It is the sound design, however, beautifully orchestrated by Eddie Huang and Chen Yi Ling, that will get under your skin (not unlike the insect that literally gets under Ligaya’s skin).
Sundance In My Mother's Skin
There isn’t much in the way of costumes, save for the Virgin Mary-inspired look of the fairy, but it’s such a striking visage (Mary’s halo is made into a ring of fairy wings framing Curtis-Smith’s head) that it leaves the most lasting of impressions. One just wishes the creature had more of a presence in the film, appearing in fleeting moments to offer Tala a duplicitous wish before exiting the film until Tala’s desperation rears its ugly head once again.
But even with all of those strengths, In My Mother’s Skin struggles to hold one’s attention. Deliberately paced to a fault, the film could have used a firmer hand in the editing room. There were several walkouts in my screening, but whether that was due to the sluggish pace or the handful of upsettingly violent scenes involving children is up in the air. That being said, Skin does have some effectively gruesome moments, with the results of Ligaya’s possession calling to mind many J-horror tropes.
Napuli serves as the film’s emotional core and gives a strong performance, but despite Tala’s youthful naïveté there is a certain frustration to her choices, with her realization of the fairy’s treachery coming a bit too late into the film. This frustration makes it difficult to make an emotional connection with her character. Similarly, Dagatan’s script falls into an episodic nature, with the fairy approaching Tala with a solution to her problems that will inevitably turn sour. Wash, rinse, and repeat.
While the individual pieces of In My Mother’s Skin are there, it doesn’t quite come together by the time the credits roll. It’s a technically ambitious effort from Dagatan, and while one can appreciate the personal nature of the film, it doesn’t quite translate to a superior final product.
In My Mother’s Skin had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival and will stream on Prime Video later this year.

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