When you flick through David Cronenberg’s writer and director credits, words like ‘dark’, ‘prophetic’, ‘intelligent’ all spring to mind. As an adapter of other people’s work, he’s made one of the best ever Stephen King adaptations with The Dead Zone (now more relevant than ever) and turned a graphic novel into a modern day classic with The History of Violence. And his own work has produced many brilliant films, justifiably earning him the moniker of genius with Dead Ringers, still arguably his best work.
The word ‘fun’, however, isn’t one easily associated with the man and his movies. His 1999 foray into the world of gaming, eXistenZ, somehow pulls of the incredible trick of being dark, prophetic and intelligent but is more fun than almost anything in his career.
When the new product test event for ultra-cool games designer Allegra Geller (Leigh) is sabotaged, she is forced to go on the run from assassins who think that her virtual reality games, which use a port to plug into your spinal column, have gone too far. Trainee marketer Ted Pikul (Law) becomes her on-the-run companion and would-be protector as the pair try to a) see if the game is damaged by playing the game, b) lose themselves inside different layers of reality and c) try to stay alive.
eXistenZ is a hugely enjoyable SF thriller with a playfulness to its narrative that keeps you well and truly baffled as too where you are. Because the characters shift from game to reality, our sense of what’s ‘real’ becomes complicated and, just when you think you have a handle on things, the game changes…
The cast are great, with Jude Law and Jennifer Jason Leigh making a charismatic pair and the climax, where some of the earlier dodgy performances make sense, is fantastic.
On shiny Blu-ray the film looks wonderful and there are a host of extras, some of which are brand new for this release. Two new commentaries are included to accompany one from Cronenberg from the original release. It’s fascinating to hear him talk about his first use of digital effects and how he thinks that will become the norm in cinema… The ‘making-of’ feature is an old documentary and deals exclusively with the production designer Carol Spier but there are also backstage interviews with the main cast and Cronenberg plus a look at the special effects. Of the new features, an interview with Christopher Eccleston, seemingly in his kitchen, seems like an odd thing but turns out to be a great insight into the world of David Cronenberg.
EXISTENZ / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR & SCREENPLAY: DAVID CRONENBERG / STARRING: JUDE LAW, JENNIFER JASON LEIGH, IAN HOLM, WILLEM DAFOE, CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON / RELEASE DATE: MAY 21ST