Shayna: I’ve been in a David Cronenberg frame of mind lately, and after watching Crash — a brutal, totally visceral film experience that you can somehow find on YouTube — I felt like slipping further down the rabbit hole with eXistenZ. While this 1999 film didn’t leave me curled up in the fetal position and near tears like Crash did, it does provide plenty of bleak takeaways about the state of human existence. Plus it stars Jennifer Jason Leigh, who pretty much owns in everything.
Set in a not-so-distant future where people can enter virtual realities and video-game designers are fawned over like rock stars (so perhaps not so unlike today), eXistenZ also stars a young Jude Law and features appearances from Willem Dafoe and Sarah Polley. Leigh is frosty and vaguely menacing here as Allegra, the designer of the not-yet-released game eXistenZ. After someone tries to kill her during a focus group session, Allegra is forced to go on the run with Ted (Law), a security guard/would-be “PR nerd” tasked with protecting her and helping ensure the survival of the game itself.
Admittedly, the plot gets Gordian-knot levels of convoluted very quickly, making it difficult to keep track of characters, corporate espionage subplots and even what reality the characters happen to be in most of the time. But the real attraction in eXistenZ is the atmosphere and the props that go along with it. There’s a gun made of bones, which fires teeth and is dripping with slimy viscera. The “bio-pods” used by players to access the game look like squishy embryos and mew contentedly when rubbed the right way. Once inside the game, Ted and Allegra are compelled by its power to follow game script, which at one point leads to an all-you-can-eat feast on mutated frog parts.
It’s wild. While the film feels very much like a product of its time, more aged and less visionary than earlier Cronenberg works like Videodrome and The Fly, eXistenZ is necessary viewing for body horror and sci-fi aficionados alike.