Today I watched David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ (1999)
David Cronenberg is no stranger to dealing with technology, his 1983 opus, Videodrome, dealt with television and group think in a manner that was way ahead of it’s time in terms of predicting internet like communication. But how did he deal with the subject matter once the actual internet was out there? eXistenZ came out the same year as The Matrix and dealt with very similar subject matter of virtual reality but instead of a virtual prison the film instead looks at virtual reality gaming.
eXistenZ, aside from the title of the movie, is a game that is undergoing focus testing when “realist” terrorists attack and injure the creator, Allegra Geller played by Jennifer Jason Leigh. A security guard played by Jude Law gets her to safety and together they uncover a deep conspiracy embedded in the games themselves. While I do think both of these actors have delivered great performances, they drag down the movie here with Law’s blandness and Leigh’s annoyingly disingenuous attitude.
There is also an issue with the film not building a convincing setting, the gaming machines they use are wholly organic and look to be made of flesh, yet the world around them looks normal. I find this really disruptive and unrealistic, it ruins my sense immersion and without grounding the twists the story throws at you later don’t have much impact. It cannot pull the rug out from under you if it does not establish the rug’s existence and make you believe in it.
I wish I liked this film more, because it has so much creativity and it has a few fun sequences and images that only a visionary like Cronenberg can deliver. But unlike Cronenberg’s best work, I find the story here wanting along with lackluster performances. On top of that it seems to not understand gaming very much, which to be fair was not a much understood phenomena at the time of it’s release. Disappointing movies are always the worst, to see a really solid idea fall apart is a tragedy much greater than the purely awful. 2/5