INFINITY POOL: Psychedelics, Edward Lee, and Redefining What is Art in Cinema

Brandon Cronenberg’s new art house horror film breaks psychedelic barriers in cinema.


Written & Directed by Brandon Cronenberg


Alexander Skarsgard as James Foster

Mia Goth as Gabi

Cleopatra Coleman as Em Foster

Guided by a seductive and mysterious woman, a couple on vacation enjoying an all-inclusive beach vacation in the fictional island of La Tolqa venture outside the resort grounds. They soon find themselves trapped in a nightmare after a fatal accident exposes the resort’s perverse subculture of hedonistic tourism, reckless violence and mind breaking, surreal horrors.

Gathering my thoughts after seeing a mind-tripping movie usually isn’t difficult for me. But Brandon Cronenberg’s latest entry into reality questioning cinema, INFINITY POOL, made me manic and unable to chain together cohesive thoughts on the film. However, after sleeping on it, and discussing this work of art with peers, I think I’ve figured out how to talk about it. And it doesn’t start with Cronenberg’s film. 

YouTube rabbit holes are an easy trap to fall into, especially when your mind locks onto a topic and obsesses with it. Recently, my wife and I discovered Comedy Central’s videos featuring comedians and their experiences with hallucinogenic compounds. I don’t want to say drugs, because not all of them are, in fact drugs. Oh, sure, there’s plenty of coke and weed stories. But some are mushrooms, and some are about frog or toad venom. And the latter is where it gets really weird.

The animations accompanying the stories were reminiscent of 1960s and 1970s animations recreating LSD trips. Now, YouTube’s algorithm likes to suggest similarly minded content, and it opened a treasure trove of VICE videos for our continuing, um, trip. Recorded over the last decade or so, by hallucinogenic drug researcher and journalist, Hamilton Morris and his series, Hamilton’s Pharmacopia, the series proved to be an interesting expose into the world of mind altering drugs.

One series of shows focused on his travels to South America to discover a toad capable of secreting hallucinogenic venom. Avoiding authorities, evading clouds of biting bugs, and treating dysentery, Hamilton finally achieved his goal. What impressed my wife and I was this man’s determination to find the toad, and the adversity he overcame to achieve his goal. 

“That must be a some fucking high for him to go through all that,” I told her, and she agreed.

But Morris’s descriptions of his dreams and visions while tripping on ayahuasca tea (which tastes like the worst thing you’ve ever tried to eat or drink) didn’t remind me of the classic melty, flowing, lava lamp imagery of Hollywood interpretations of acid trips. Instead, they reminded me of different imagery I’ve witnessed, created by an unexpected source.

Being part of the indy horror community, I’m privy to some talent mainstream Hollywood horror (I’m looking at you Jason Blum and James Wan!) overlooks or doesn’t even fucking notice. One of those people is extreme horror legend Ed Lee (NOT the chef!). Talking about him in regards to this movie might go past some of my readers, so let me introduce you to a man some call the most brilliant writer in any genre today. 

Edward Lee is about as (in)famous in the writing world for his extreme horror as Brandon’s father David Cronenberg is for body horror films in Hollywood. Born in 1957, Ed- a US Army vet- came to prominence during the splatterpunk movement with his extreme horror stories making an impact during the 90s, in particular the classics HEADER and THE BIG HEAD. The former has been made into a low budget film you can currently stream and watch on Tubi. 

Associates of Lee’s will tell you he’s the nicest fellow (true, I’ve experienced this first hand), he has a wonderful sense of humor (just ask the staff of the DoubleTree Hilton in Williamsburg, VA), and that his historical works written under a pen name are his best pieces (also true). Edward Lee is a true sage in the indy horror community, and one of its good guys. 

A full time writer since 1997, Lee not only creates fiction, but is a filmmaker. And these films, often inspired by Lee’s own experiments with hallucinogenic substances, are where we find our common ground with INFINITY POOL. In particular, Lee’s avant garde film THE WALKING WOMAN, stands out for its chaotic representation of a DMT trip. It’s to these images, which include an X-ray throat fucking, that my mind went when watching INFINITY POOL. I’ll be shocked if I don’t see an internet trend, wherein viewers witness people walking out on screenings. It’s that fucked up… because Ed Lee’s movies are that fucked up. And while watching INFINITY POOL, I felt as though the film had caused me to have an acid trip flashback. 

This is appropriate for my theatrical experience absorbing Cronenberg’s new film, I think, considering INFINITY POOL opens with a disclaimer about flashing lights and epilepsy. An early use of a drone camera for more than a cliched high aerial shot, instead it shows us the world we are entering is skewed and twisted by doing the same to our visual perception of the resort.

INFINITY POOL starts as a cautionary tale, a warning to vacationing Americans who frequent the resorts of Mexico, the Caribbean, and South America… and writer’s desperate for affirmation of their art… and evolves into a study on identity by asking many of the same questions breached in Blade Runner, including the theme of discovering your true self.

Cronenberg uses the tried and true trope of the failed writer to tell his tale and explore his questions of what makes us, well, US. Alexander Skarrsagard’s James Foster, on an inspirational retreat intended to kickstart his career, finds all is not as he would think. As is common with this trope, ultimately the true antagonist of the story is the writer’s vanity. 

The country their inclusive resort resides in, La Tolqa, is as much a character as the actors. La Tolqa, a religious and spiritual country, answers most any crime with death sentences. Visitors are instructed to never leave the compound, but the affluent, entitled members do it regardless of the consequences. In fact, as we learn, they thrive off it. You see, La Tolqa, through arrangements made with other governments, has a unique manner in which it deals with the execution of justice for these crimes.  

In contrast to the clean and crisp resort guests, the La Tolqa natives all have face tattoos reminiscent of the street gang teardrop tattoo near their left eyes, indicating you have killed someone in jail. This is a crime- it seems – all the residents of La Tolqa have done.  The destitute country is their prison. La Tolqa could be anywhere in the world, it is an amalgam of the third world countries the rich call their playgrounds and vacation homes.   

Is this “elevated” horror? No? It’s something else, in its own league. Cronenberg is a peer of Eggers and Astir, but he’s blazing his own path as he studies the human condition. If Egger’s THE NORTHMAN portrayed a mushroom acid trip in all of its stigmatism laden imagery, INFINITY POOL is a full on DMT trip. 

Like THE MENU, which also features a strong, young female talent and darling of “Elevated Horror” (Anya Taylor-Joy), INFINITY POOL’s satire of the establishment digs at the excesses of the wealthy, albeit in a much more perverse manner. And it’s this depravity that grabs you as the film unfolds.

And the surreal scenes depicting the hallucinations and orgies? They are nightmare fuel unlike any you’ve witnessed… that is unless you’ve seen Ed Lee’s films, as I previously mentioned. The root the Infinity Pool Gang imbibes and leads to their mind-bending orgies of sex and violence, acting much like the popular South American DMT vector Hamilton Morris sought, ayahuasca.

My only issues with INFINITY POOL stem from what I see as a miscasting of Skarsgard in the lead. Originally intended for Robert Pattison, he turned it down and it eventually landed in Alex’s capable hands. But I think his brother would have been better suited for the role. Bill has shown time and time again his ability to express internalized feelings through his body language. And though Alexander does a fine job, he comes up a little short. 

If Skarsgard’s lead is my only gripe, then it’s Mia Goth’s turn as seductress Gabi, that deserves my highest praise. Mia shines through all the surrealism to stand out as a beacon of insanity. Building off her already growing reputation, as indicated by her turn in X and PEARL, Mia has shown early praise for her talent was not given prematurely. It’s ironic that she plays an actress using her fantastic skills to manipulate and groom Skarsgard’s beaten down James. 

INFINITY POOL will leave asking yourself questions… What the fuck did I just watch? and Was it a good movie? Will certainly be two of them.  The third will be Who am I? And that last question? It’s the one that will linger. INFINITY POOL will haunt you, in much the same manner as the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel tend to do to those who watched Kubrick’s THE SHINING.   

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