Film Review

David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ

David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ (such beautifully deliberate typos) blends the director’s trademark kinky, drippy body horror with a tactile, analog virtual reality aesthetic that is one of his most fun, freaky and mind warping SciFi horror outings I’ve seen. Jennifer Jason Leigh is an edgy, uncompromising, fearless actress who has made it her personal mission to work with some of the wildest, weirdest filmmakers out there including Tarantino, Paul Verhoeven, The Coens, The Safdies, Charlie Kaufman, Brad Anderson and of course David Lynch. Her collaboration with Cronenberg provides us with fascinating protagonist Allegra Keller, a futuristic video game designer who Leigh imbues with a wistful, detached-from-reality aura, a girl who got lost in the virtual world and is only half present in any given scene. Allegra is the target of corporate assassins out to plunder her tech, so she’s on the run with a low level marketing schmuck (Jude Law) from her firm, hiding out in a backwoods motel. Her only choice is to play her own game with this underling in order to find out if it’s damaged or not, and here the film veers into unsteady narrative territory as reality bends and all sense of linear cohesion is thrown to the wind for some truly trippy mind-games. They encounter other players personified by a rogues gallery of Cronenberg regulars like Sarah Polley, Ian Holm, Callum Keith Rennie, Don Mckellar, Christopher Eccleston and Willem Dafoe as a nasty, treacherous gas station attendant whose name is literally… Gas. The film is a sort of paranoid, uneasy game of virtual Russian roulette to see who’s who, who’s not who they say they are, what’s real, what’s not and who is going to end up dead or insane from playing this very dangerous game for too long, and goddamn is it ever fun until it’s last, ruthless, kick in the nuts final beat before the credits. Leigh is wonderful and adds a deliriously sexual connotation to the already very sexual, body penetrating nature of the tech used for gameplay, she puts her sly, playful yet shady smile to great effect and it’s one of the best actor/director collabs with Conenberg I’ve seen since Jeff Goldblum for The Fly. The special effects are excellent too, all kinds of gorgeously grotesque organ mimicking tubes, fleshy portals and genitalia reminiscent weaponry that will have all the parents in the audience getting uncomfortable. It’s a great picture, the mix of virtual paranoia, worlds within games within worlds and freaky, glistening practical viscera is a delicious flavour and one of my favourite cinematic recipes yet from our Canadian master of the macabre. Great film.

-Nate Hill

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