existenz | david cronenberg | jude law | jennifer jason leigh | ian holm | video game | body horror | sci-fi | thriller | united kingdom | france | Canada | willem dafoe | don mckellar | callum keith rennie | christopher eccleston | sarah polley | robert a. silverman
Director: David Cronenberg
Writer: David Cronenberg
Starring: Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Ian Holm
This was a movie that I’m pretty sure I never heard of until I was going through one of my lists of horror films to see. It also has popped up from time to time on horror movie podcasts, but it under talked about from what I gather from the filmography of David Cronenberg. It makes sense that Duncan over on the Podcast Under the Stairs would select this as part of the Movie Club Challenge since we are working through this director’s lesser covered films. The synopsis here a game designer on the run from assassins must play her latest virtual reality creation with a marketing trainee to determine if the game has been damaged.
For this movie, we start out at a seminar for a new game. It is being led by Christopher Eccleston and the new game is called eXistenZ, with emphasis on the fact that the X and Z are capitalized. The designer of the game is Allegra Gellar (Jennifer Jason Leigh). She gets up and seems quite shy as well introverted. The purpose here is that they’re going to tap into the game with her to try it out. Running the door as security is an intern of Ted Pikul (Jude Law). Noel Dicther (Kris Lemche) shows up late and he seems to have brought his own special console. After being checked, he’s allowed in.
Things go south fast though. Noel is hiding a gun that is made out of bone so it wasn’t detected. He stands up while watching a group on stage play and shoots Allegra in the shoulder. He then kills the seminar leader. Ted is told to get Allegra out of there. They flee in his vehicle. Ted doesn’t fully grasp what is going on and takes a call from his pink phone. Allegra panics and throws it away. She reveals to him that they don’t know who they can trust.
They arrive at a motel room to hide out and she realizes that Ted doesn’t have a port. She needs to go back into eXistenZ to ensure that it wasn’t damaged or that there are no players trapped inside of the world. She can’t go in alone and needs someone who is on her side to go in with her. In order for him to play, they need to find an underground place to get him fitted with a port. Ted is apprehensive about doing this, but wants to help. This leads them to a Country Gas Station where they meet Gas (Willem Dafoe).
From here it becomes a questioning of who Allegra and Ted can trust, including themselves. The lines of reality are blurred as to what you can believe is the real world and what is actually the game. This idea goes even farther beyond this the deeper they go.
That is where I’m going to leave my recap for this movie. Where I want to start is that this movie feels like it is in the same universe as Videodrome. What is different here is that movie builds to that odd surreal feel and this one gets right into it. By the end here though, it all makes a lot more sense as to how weird we start off.
I feel that is where I should start. Cronenberg has taken on a few different things with technology and how they’re taking over our lives. In this movie he is looking at video games. This really feels like he’s going in games like World of Warcraft and others that just seemed to legitimate take over lives. What is wild though, this movie came out before those did so it seems like he was predicting it would happen eventually. In this opening sequence with Allegra and the others porting into this living organism to play eXistenZ was interesting to me since no one really questions it. It is just accepted.
From this opening scene, I like that Cronenberg prolongs us from seeing what the world of the game looks like. I really didn’t know much about the premise so I actually came in pretty blind. My fear though was seeing bad CGI virtual reality which we got in things like The Lawnmower Man or Ghost in the Machine. I’m glad that when Ted finally goes into the game, their world is just our world. This seems to me like an influence on Inception as well. We are blurring the world of the game with reality. We don’t know what is the game and what is reality by the end of things. The characters don’t really seem to know either. Allegra wants Ted to just give in and lose himself in the game like she did. There also seems to be a commentary here on letting yourself enjoy horrible acts you are doing in the game. There could be a bit of losing your humanity by doing so.
The ending plays with a troupe that I’m burned out with, but I’ll be honest, I’ll let it slide here. It makes so much sense to me. It also feels a lot like the ending of Videodrome in a sense. What I took from this movie though is a bit of creator not wanting their creation to be corrupted. This could even go as far to the bible where God is upset that Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit with Allegra losing it when she thinks her pod is infected with bad spores. Going along with this idea, we also have the opening scene where Noel wants to kill Allegra. There are multiple people who state ‘Kill the demoness’ as they try to kill her. There is a reveal at the end with this same mantra that worries Yevgeny Nourish (Don McKellar) and Merle (Sarah Polley).
The last little thing I wanted to say, I love when Allegra and Ted are in the game where pre-determined things have to be said to progress the story. Allegra is literally mocking D’Arcy Nader (Robert A. Silverman) about his accent and how he looks to his face. This is just funny to me as I’ve been really into gaming a few different times in life. Seeing Ted get annoyed with figuring out how to progress the story, seeing it play out more in reality fit for the feeling of a game. I’m just waiting for games to look this real by the way.
I want to shift this over to the effects. Cronenberg really nails the practicals and really incorporates his body horror elements. I love that we have this gun that was used to shoot Allegra in the beginning that it was made of out bone and different natural parts. Human teeth being the bullets are also a good touch. It wouldn’t be able to shoot in reality, but I can suspend disbelief in the world that is built. I’m also a fan of the fact that we have these game consoles that are made from parts of mutated amphibians. This feels like something from Jurassic Park, since they also used DNA of these animals and again, the movie believes it so I can. I’ve also said that I love that game we’re seeing is a way more advanced virtual reality and I can buy into it.
The last thing that I wanted to go into would be the acting. Leigh does a great job here. What is interesting is that her character feels a lot like hers in Possessor, like that version is where she ends up. Also should slide in here that Possessor could take place in this world as well. To get back to my point, I love that she’s way more lost into this virtual reality and keeps trying to get Ted to eat of the forbidden fruit and get lost in it. I was shocked to see Law in this. I love that his character is apprehensive. Despite this, he is seduced by Allegra until he is as addicted as she is by the end. I loved the cameos by Ian Holm, Dafoe, McKellar, Polly, Silverman, Oscar Hsu and Lemche. I feel them along with the rest of the cast rounded this out for what was needed.
In conclusion here, I liked what this movie is doing. As I said before, this feels like it could be in the same world as Videodrome or even Possessor. With the former, it is looking at how advanced gaming is getting and if you’re not careful, it can take over your life. I thought that the acting was good in making it feel more and believable. The effects work there as well. The reveal at the end worked for me and I would say it even influenced some major films after it. The soundtrack also fit for what was needed, but I’ll be honest, I didn’t notice it all that much after this first viewing. I would rate this as an above average movie. There are some disjointed parts for me. Now that I’ve seen it though, I would like to give it a rewatch to see with knowing how it ends aren’t really a problem now.
My Rating: 7.5 out of 10