eXistenZ Review

by "Walter Frith" (wfrith AT cgocable DOT net)
April 25th, 1999

'eXistenZ' (1999)

A movie review by Walter Frith

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Member of the 'Online Film Critics Society'

As a Canadian and fellow countryman of director David Cronenberg's, I have always appreciated his visionary style of movie making with all the subtlety of a violent storm. Cronenberg rips into the very body of science fiction and horror and then stands back and holds its beating heart in his hand. I admire his approach to the material and the films where he has served as both director and author or co-author of the screenplays are among his best work. Cronenberg's vision is comparable to that of a mad scientist. His work is always layered with the unorthodox and sinister sides of the human soul and by this description I mean it as the highest possible compliment because after all, his intention is to scare movie audiences into a frenzy and although his films often have a sickening side to them, that's just in his nature to show it that way.

Cronenberg began his career making short films in 1966 with a little number entitled 'Transfer'. Not only did he serve as the film's writer, director, and producer, but he photographed and edited the project himself. He first gained a major following with his 1975 effort 'Shivers' and made 'Rabid' (1977), 'Fast Company' and 'The Brood', both in 1979 before the film that really would solidify him as a major film maker, 'Scanners' (1981) which was about a form of mental telepathy that could pressurize and explode human heads. That film is his most cult like and chilling statement and he would tackle Hollywood productions with 'The Dead Zone' (1983), and 'The Fly' (1986), which won an Oscar for its incredible make-up. Cronenberg's last four films before 'eXistenZ', 'Dead Ringers' (1988), 'Naked Lunch' (1991), 'M Butterfly' (1993) and 'Crash' (1996) all show his ability to get better with age and his maturity as a film maker remains intact. 'Naked Lunch' was thought to be a story impossible to film, based on the literary work of William S. Burroughs, and while I didn't like the film, I could see its art which was brought to new heights by the incredibly droning and dream like dialogue Cronenberg injected into the film. 'eXistenZ' is certainly made with the Cronenberg stamp placed on it and the film is a perfect way to usher in the new millennium as it plays on our fears and intimidating feelings about technology.

Jennifer Jason Leigh is Allegra Geller, a designer of virtual reality games who wants to test her latest invention on a focus group gathered one evening, and they see her as a god who has designed some of the best games ever made. A member of the security team named Ted Pikul (Jude Law) fails to protect her at the meeting and she's shot and pursued by her competitors who want her dead for their own agenda.

The game is called eXistenZ and it's played by plugging into a human being's bio port which is on the lower back and is sort of like an electrical outlet inserted through the area to put a hole in the spine where all data connects and draws the user into a virtual reality game where it is impossible to tell reality from all the rest. Allegra and Ted flee the shooting scene and stop on a country road to assess their situation and Allegra persuades Ted to have a bio port installed on his body and it's done at a small, by-the-road service station by a character named Gas (Willem Dafoe). Apparently, having a bio port installed is as easy as having your ears pierced and we assume that this film is set many years in the future because real life technology like this hasn't even been invented yet. Let alone the fact that a patent on such an idea would be very hard to get.

And that's where 'eXistenZ' really picks up and runs with the ball as it is an original idea done with all the wet gore you would expect from a David Cronenberg film. It's suspenseful, darkly lit, but is really for die hard Cronenberg fans who will enjoy it best. The chemistry works well between Jennifer Jason Leigh and Jude Law and other interesting performances in the film come from Don McKellar, Ian Holm and Callum Keith Rennie with a cameo by Sarah Polley. The only thing missing is a cameo by Cronenberg himself in some small way which would have been a nice touch. The film's subject matter is a metaphor for drug use, sexual escapades and violent frustrations and Cronenberg's the sole author of the film's screenplay and calls his own shots all the way.

Not only is the film a story about virtual reality but that's exactly the way the film plays before an incredible twist comes near the end of its appropriate running time of 97 minutes. Not too short and not too long is the way a film like this should be made. By making it appeal to our attention span which would probably hold up as long as if we really were playing a game.

OUT OF 5 > * * * 1/2

Visit FILM FOLLOW-UP by Walter Frith


* * * * * - a must see
* * * * 1/2 - don't miss it
* * * * - an excellent film
* * * 1/2 - a marginal recommendation
* * * - can't quite recommend it
* * 1/2 - don't recommend it
* * - avoid it
* 1/2 - avoid it seriously
* - avoid it AT ALL COSTS
1/2 - see it at your own risk
zero - may be hazardous to your health

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