In eXistenZ future gamers literally plug themselves into the games that they play, with creepy insectoid ports that look as if they are made of bones. These cords are inserted into previously created orifices ‘tapped’ into the lower spine, resulting in the gamer becoming one with an immersive and totally interactive game experience, to the point where there is genuine confusion as to which is real and which is gameplay.
Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is the Steve Jobs of game design, the Morpheus to a bunch of fawning gamers worldwide. Her every new release is met with breathless anticipation bordering on fervor, rabid shut-ins cannot wait to jam a hose into the weeping crevice in their lower back and let their eyes roll back in their head.
Don’t blame me. Blame Cronenberg.
Being an extremely well known and revered figure also brings the attention of crazies. When Allegra learns that her latest game design may be compromised, she decides the only way to find the truth is by playing through it. The only ‘friendly’ that she can locate at short notice with people with nasty intent closing in is a mousy and nervous non-gamer in Ted (Jude Law), a company man who thinks he is there to provide marketing for the new game, but who swiftly becomes an initially unwilling crash test dummy for the game.
Every new stage is like a choose your own adventure game for the characters. Other characters lead the conversation and wait for trigger phrases to dictate the next action or development. One minute Ted is gutting a fish in a factory, the next he is in a seedy backwoods market with a random scumbag. It’s all designed to disorient. Which is the game and what could possibly be real?
Obviously this was the intent for the viewing audience too. And while I grew tired of the twists and turns to nowhere, some of the visuals were particularly striking, with Cronenberg indulging in his usual blend of all things icky, sticky and oozing.
It seems Cronenberg delights in the discomfort of others, his characters in The Fly, Crash and this film are placed in circumstances where they are prodded, probed and worse, all in ways which make the viewers shift uneasily in the chair – leading no doubt to more exhilaration and hand wringing from Cronenberg.
Every new viewer experiencing the shock and staring aghast must be a guilty thrill, but I’ve seen too many of these things to much care anymore. The Fly worked because it was new and shocking, Naked Lunch was confronting, disorienting and visually original, eXistenZ seems to be a man running out of ideas.
In my opinion the best thing Cronenberg did was scale back the creepy stuff and increase the realism will films like Eastern Promises and A History of Violence, the nearer to possible real life, the more shocking these things become. The only thing shocking here is how dull this stuff became.
Final Rating – 6.5 / 10. If this film was a video game, it would be Duke Nukem; brash, boorish, try hard and ultimately not groundbreaking at all.