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eXistenZ (1999)

Crimes of the Future

Play it. Live it. Kill for it.

Directed by:

David Cronenberg

Rating: 6/10

Running Time: 97 minutes

US Certificate: R UK Certificate: 15


In America, April 1999 was a good month for the perennially disorientated. Within the space of a few weeks, cinemas were hit with The Matrix (in which the lines between reality and virtual reality become blurred), ‘Open Your Eyes’ (in which the lines between reality and virtual reality become blurred) and this one, ‘eXistenZ’ (in which, er, the lines between reality and virtual reality become blurred).

Of course, the three films are far from identical. ‘eXistenZ’ doesn’t, for example, have Keanu Reeves doing his best to be taken seriously in a big long leather jacket, and neither does it have Penelope Cruz rabbiting on in Spanish. It does, however, have Jude Law and Jennifer Jason Leigh running around a video game world eating dodgy Chinese food and shooting at people with a gun that uses human teeth instead of bullets (well, you know what they say – tooth hurts. Arf!!).

It’s set in an apparently not-too-distant future where the top celebs are the game designers, and anyone who’s anyone is able to play along by plugging a wriggling pink blob into a custom-drilled port in their backs (if you ask me, if seems a bit unnecessary giving people a hole in the bottom of their spines when there’s a perfectly good “port” just a little bit further down). It’s against this backdrop that dim-witted security guard Ted Pikul (Law) and increasingly-exasperated games guru Allegra Geller (Leigh) fight to stay alive. Ah, but is it all just part of the game, or are they actually killing people for real? Don’t ask me – there was never this sort of trouble with ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’.

Writer-director David Cronenberg, a man who has long-championed the slightly seedy, presents us with a bizarre world where technology and organic matter merge in ways previously unseen on screen. His weird and wacky ideas give ‘eXistenZ’ a look that is all its own, but sadly the premise still seems barely enough to carry an entire movie. Once the idea’s novelty value has worn off, this is actually a fairly average piece of story-telling, with pretensions of deep-thinking soon taking secondary importance to run-of-the-mill action sequences. Then there’s the final twist, which seems to owe more to the fact that twists were fashionable in 1999 (it would also become the year of ‘The Sixth Sense’) than any convincing attempt at rounding off the story.

It's Got: “Bio Ports”.

It Needs: “Bio Pots” (they’re a variety of healthy low-fat yoghurt, apparently).

DVD Extras A 50-minute FX documentary, a trailer, and a choice of commentary from Cronenberg, cinematographer Peter Suschitzky or special effects blokey Jim Isaac. Version reviewed: Existenz (Momentum Pictures Home Ent) DVD Extras Rating: 6/10


The Matrix, Total Recall, Tron, Videodrome


David Cronenberg’s delve into a grimy video game world has lots of plus points, but isn’t quite as good as it should be. Stick to ‘Super Mario’.

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