Spoilers will skip the special.
Unavoidably, this one will draw comparisons to The Matrix (1999). Actually, there’s a series of films that were released around that era that define/re-define the reality-bending genre. I must say of all of them, this one is the hardest to sit through. There’s something that David Cronenberg does with both style and performance in this feature that makes me feel uneasy about what I’m watching but turns out that’s on purpose. The bio-technology in display doesn’t help appease that.
eXistenZ (1999) was written and directed by David Cronenberg. Game designer Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is presenting her new game, a virtual reality simulation controlled via a bio-engineered game pod that looks organic. To play you must hook in via a bio-port that is made into your spine. A protest group called the Realists makes an attempt on Allegra’s life during the presentation. A marketing trainee named Ted Pikul (Jude Law) is tasked with protecting Allegra. As they go on the run, the story is about Allegra but Pikul is our point of view character so we understand how the world works. Of course, this is the initially presented premise, the story has layers to uncover.
Saying that things are not what they seem here is a misnomer. If you feel everything is particularly off, that’s not a fault of the film but rather its strength. You’re going to start uncovering what’s part of the game and what’s real and continue to be challenged throughout. As Allegra and Pikul meet characters who help them or backstab them (often both) you do get memorable appearances by Willem Dafoe as gas station attendant Gas, Ian Holm as Allegra’s mentor Kiri Vinokur and Don McKellar as agent Yevgeny Nourish. I must say the fact that the gas station attendant is named “Gas” should give you a major clue.
The visual style is interesting, but the bio-tech is both intriguing and repulsive. There’s a hefty element of body horror added to the sci-fi that fits, yet changes any sleekness for slime-ness and the movie plays on that. That means you can expect all sounds to be heightened anytime something semi-organic is being handled. I’m not much for gross-out scenes, specially when meals are concerned so that’s definitely challenging for me to watch. The practical effects are still impressive but the CGI (which is thankfully used very little) has aged poorly.
Recommended for fans of innovative sci-fi and body horror with reservations. I’m not keen on gross out scenes, but if that’s your thing this would be the movie for you. The performances are good, but you have to recognize that sometimes you’re watching somebody intentionally putting a performance you have to recognize as fake. The same goes for clothing choices and scene mishaps. I can recommend it for its audience, but I must say I myself found a watch challenging.
That will do for now.