eXistenZ (1999)

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David Cronenberg directs Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law and Willem Dafoe in this paranoid sci-fi thriller where the star programmer of new immersive game goes on the run from terrorist’s wanting to maintain reality.

To my mind the last true Cronenbergian David Cronenberg film. While his later, more prestigious, satires and dramas still explored sex and violence, this is the last of his oeuvre to gifts you that mindfuck imagery you associate with his brand. The last of his output (so far) that still feels comfortable in the sticky corner of a VHS rental place or the midnight movie at an unclean cinema. We get guns made out of rotting animal matter that fire teeth. We get self inflicted holes in spines for umbilical cord like cables to jack directly into your nervous system. We get a heroine who likes to lick and finger these wounds, risking infection but not emotional connection. We get layers of reality and people losing their souls as they go further down the rabbit hole. We get a literal and metaphorical shaggy dog wandering around an aimless tale. In all honesty eXistenZ is too cold and distant a film to truly enjoy. It shifts abruptly about its episodic plot with no great narrative surprises. There are twists and moments of unsettling uncertainty but these feel rote given the nature of the world we are exploring. Cronenberg perfectly nails the exposition cut scene, the idling AI of a character we have to communicate with to further our mission and the unnatural pull of having to perform a task as our game avatar with no real correlation as to how we would execute the same interaction in real life. Intellectually that’s great but it makes for a dead fish of an adventure. Luckily a sexy and forthright turn from Jennifer Jason Leigh keeps you glued to the screen. Her superstar designer on the run hooks us in and runs her tongue into places most movie stars wouldn’t dare. When it feels like Cronenberg doesn’t care about us the mere mortals having to watch his essay, his lead continually seduces us to keep at it.

7

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