Cronenberg’s sci-fi espionage thriller ‘EXistenZ’ was met by a luke-warm reception with its release back in the 1990s. With its re-release on Blu-ray I couldn’t resist taking a trip down memory lane- and what a confusing trip it was.
‘eXistenZ’ sees a futuristic game designer ‘Alegra’ becoming the prime target in a corporate war, when, at the screening of her latest game, a game to divide and conquer the thriving gaming industry, a ‘fan’ pulls a gun on her and she is forced to run for her life.Naturally we aren’t talking about the latest XBOX or PlayStation release, in typical Cronenberg fashion these are games which require special equipment, Biopods, to merge with our own cortex and nervous system in order to provide the user with total immersion in a virtual reality world; to essentially play the game with our mind.
Naturally the world is addicted to these games, hence the assassination attempts and the high stakes the designer is willing to go to in order to protect her latest invention. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out the social undertones of this story and I think on many levels, as with all visionary Sci-Fi’s, the points made in this movie are probably more poignant today, with millions of young gamers having their social interactions limited to such devices, than they were at the time of release.
The cast showcases a good assortment of actors, and several short scenes involving some rather notable A-lister’s which help to bring alive some of the movies key set pieces. Naturally there are quite a bit of ‘are they in the game? Are they out of the game’ moments, and the cast do well to portray their characters that show equal confusion – especially considering the movies more absurd moments. The script for the most part is good, although some scenes are a little corny owing to the excessively poor fake accents delivered by some of the cast. The movie moves along at a pace, and although it takes a little bit to get your head round initially once you persevere with the story you will no doubt find the whole concept quite engaging. Sadly, success of story to screen is somewhat inconsistent. In my opinion this movie felt like it was it was missing something, namely in its explanation about what was going on. The rather short run time of 92 minutes lead me to believe that this movie was somewhat edited down, no doubt to try to minimise dialogue and exposition in favour of trying to promote this as an action movie. If this was indeed the case I can’t help feel that this did the movie more harm than good as many scenes seem to flit between situations and characters with little or no explanation and it requires you to work harder than you might like to fill in the gaps.
When the movie works the action is good, and there are some gory moments, but naturally what makes this movie what it is are Cronenberg’s grotesque biomechanical creations. The biopods, an amalgamation of biological organs and mechanics look quite revolting, and the fact that you have to insert it into some sort of rectal-esk hole or ‘port’ in your back doesn’t make it any easier to watch. The highlight of the movie is no doubt the tooth gun, a gun made entirely out of organic material this is something only Cronenberg could have created!
Overall, this is an ambitious movie, and with perhaps some scenes extended it might have been more than it ultimately was. The concept was something which will get you thinking, and there are several good scenes which save the movie from being a complete write-off, however, for casual viewing it demands too much from you. Don’t get me wrong, I am not the sort of person that refuses to think when viewing, but this effort just felt disjointed. For a slightly better execution on a similar theme check out Fincher’s ‘The Game’. As for Cronenberg, he has far better movies.