Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Ian Holm, Willem Dafoe, Don McKellar, Callum Keith Rennie, Christopher Eccleston, Sarah Polley, Robert A. Silverman, Oscar Hsu, Kris Lemche, Vik Sahay
Plot: Allegra Gellar (Leigh) is one of the best game designers in the world working toward the launch of her new virtual reality game eXistenZ, but when she is attacked by a crazed assassin she is forced to go on the run with marketing trainee Ted (Law). Fearing that her game might have been damaged in the attack she talks Ted into playing the game with her only to soon find the real and virtual world becoming all the more blended the more they play.
Review: What is it about Cronenbergs career that no one else seems to talk about the films which fall between his remake of “The Fly” and “A History of Violence”? Its not that these films are any less interesting or enjoyable than the films which he made either side of this period some of these films arguably better than the ones which came before or after them and yet with the exception of “Crash” whose controversial release marks it out much like “Naked Lunch” which had the benefit of being linked to William Burroughs cult novel this remains a seemingly forgotten period for Cronenberg which only now seems to be getting the appreciation it deserves with “Dead Ringers” as I write this quickly coming into vogue at present with cult cinema fans. This film however I would cite as the most bizarrely over looked of these films a feeling I’ve had about the film since I first saw it where it left me bewildered that it wasn’t being more talked about, while its release in 1999 over provides further evidence of it still being the best movie year.
Working from the his first original script since “Videodrome” here the focus hasn’t changed as the focus is once more on societies relationship with technology this time moving the focus from television to video games while also working in his still popular themes of disease, mutation and Infection as like with “Videodrome” he leads us down another twisted rabbit hole. At the same time while the basis for this world might be in Video Games and perhaps to an extent virtual reality, its a world still very much seen through Cronenberg’s eye which see’s players connecting themselves to fleshy game pods via umbilical like cords which connect to the base of their spines. Once in the video game world of the game its almost impossible to tell what’s reality with the exception of characters appearing to be stuck on a loop if the player doesn’t present them with the right line of dialogue for them to respond to. This is of course the trap that Cronenberg sell us as things get only the more progressively weirder as the film continues with Allegra and Ted at one point working in a slaughterhouse style manufacture line where the game pods are seemingly being constructed out of various animal organs.
Compared to some of his other films the mutation aspect is pretty light here with the standout moment coming when the leftovers of “The Special” at a Chinese restaurant turn themselves into a bio-mechanical pistol complete with teeth bullets. The scene played out with much mechanical ease by Jude Law as he unwittingly pieces the weapon together his body working independently from his mind. True this might be lighter than James Woods pushing a video cassette into the video player formed in his chest but what we get here is none the less effective with some memorable imagery featured throughout.
Even when in the supposed real world there is always something to hold the audiences attention with Cronenberg not needing to go into a virtual world before he is introducing some of the more weird and memorable aspects of the film as seen with a would be assassin trying to kill Allegra using a bio-mechanical gun in a scene inspired by the Fatwa being declared on author Salman Rushdie after he released “The Satanic Verses”. Frustratingly its never made overly clear what about Allegra’s game is cause for such protest let alone an attempted assassination attempt and to this extent it really only serves as a catalyst for the main story than being fleshed out as much as I would have liked, more so when the film comes full circle by its finale.
For the most part the film is carried by both Leigh and Law as they try to make sense of what is happening around them encountering a number of colourful and interesting characters along their journey from Willem Dafoe’s mechanic Gas who also has a sideline in bio-ports through to the Bio-pod surgeon and Allegra’s mentor Kiri (Holm) who operates out of a disused ski lodge continuing the theme of things turning up in surprisingly places which features throughout the film. Each of these encounters proving memorable in their own ways with Cronenberg not wasting time on filler here while the ongoing mystery is only added to further by another of classic score by long term collaborator Howard Shore.
Thanks to some misguiding advertisements on the films release selling the film as more of an action film it has for some reason left the film one of the more sadly overlooked entries on Cronenberg’s resume and while it might not be one from his golden period this is still him working at his most creative and inventive best