Directed by David Cronenberg
Disturbed by 101 Films
Few filmmakers perfected the art of body horror quite like David Cronenberg did. From the suspiciously phallic parasites of his icky debut Shivers to the literal mind-blowing antics of Scanners, the Canadian auteur knew how to push the disgust button in viewers. That said, there was always much more going on in his work than those moments of visceral horror, and he infused all for his movies with intelligence and meaning no matter the genre.
Videodrome examined – and took to extremes – the argument that extreme screen violence impacts viewers, while The Fly looked at the all too real horror of losing a loved one to an incurable disease. While eXistenZ isn’t held up as one of Cronenberg’s best, all of his familiar themes and imagery are there and it holds up remarkably well nearly 20 years later. The story is set in a future where virtual reality games are the norm and played via weird, lumpy flesh pods that slot into a hole in player’s spines. A famous game designer named Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) has to go on the run when so-called ‘realists’ decide her next game eXistenZ must be destroyed, and a reluctant marketing assistant (Jude Law) becomes her bodyguard
Movies about VR became a weird subgenre unto themselves in the 1990’s (The Lawnmower Man, Virtuosity), but eXistenZ has aged better than most by not really focusing on the tech itself, and is fairly lo-fi in the way it depicts the future. In many ways, the movie could be seen as a spiritual sequel to Videodrome but focused on games, and how it soon becomes impossible to separate the virtual world from the game one.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Cronenberg without a little body horror thrown in, and he has some real fun in that regard. This includes a gross gun made of flesh and bone that fires teeth, and the bio-ports that connect players to their games. Jude Law’s character is a VR virgin so he has to get a port fitted, but naturally, he has a self-confessed fear of being ‘penetrated.’ The porthole itself is a little anus looking thing at the base of someone’s spine, and throughout the movie, it gets lubed, prodded, licked and ‘jacked’ into, and it becomes apparent there might be some kind of subtext going on.
Leigh and Law make for a fun double act, and while the movie isn’t exactly action-packed, it moves at a fair clip and comes in just over 90 minutes. The story can be a tad episodic in nature with the two leads encountering various oddballs and freaks along the way, but it never gets dull either. Cronenberg has a lot of fun playing with the various levels of reality and all the storytelling possibilities that come with it. eXistenZ feels like the end of an era in some ways for the filmmaker, as it was the last of his films that can really be classified as horror. While some directors revisit familiar concepts and become progressively stale, eXistenZ still holds up and is somehow timelier now than it was in 1999.
101 Films launched their new Black Label with eXistenZ, which marks the movie’s UK Blu-ray debut. The image quality is good, if not quite amazing. The audio is PCM and is very good, while the disc comes packed with all the extras from the old DVD – including Cronenberg’s excellent commentary – while featuring a bunch of new commentaries and an interview with Christopher Eccleston about his time working on the movie.
While it isn’t Cronenberg’s best, eXistenZ still provides food for thought while delivering some classic body horror. This new Blu-ray is a good package for fans and newbies alike.
- The Leader: An interview with Christopher Eccleston
- Commentary with Kim Newman and Ryan Lambie
- Commentary with Mondo Digital’s Nathaniel Thompson
- Limited edition booklet includes: ‘Enemy of Reality: David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ’ by Alex Morris, and ‘Of Fabrics and Flesh: An interview with Denise Cronenberg’ by Phillip Escott.
- Audio commentary by David Cronenberg
- Making-of documentary
- Promo Featurette
- Special Effects Featurette
- Backstage interviews with Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Willem Dafoe, Jim Isaac (visual effects) and David Cronenberg
If you love eXistenZ this package more than does the movie justice, and if you’ve never seen it, this is the perfect way to rediscover something of a lost gem.