eXistenZ (1999)
By: Julian on September 29, 2009  | 
Colombia Tristar (Australia), Region 2 & 4, PAL. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1. Czech, Danish, English, Finnish, Hungarian, Norwegian, Spanish, Swedish subtitles. 97 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: David Cronenberg
Starring: Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Willem Dafoe, Ian Holm, Sarah Polley
Screenplay: David Cronenberg
Country: Canada
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I first watched eXistenZ before I was aware who David Cronenberg was and how influential his earlier films were on the horror genre over the previous two decades. Having seen most of the Cronenberg essentials since re-watching eXistenZ, it's plainly clear that, for mine, it's the Canadian director's most accomplished horror film: sleek, modern, intelligent and violent - a fitting coda (presumptuously assuming a certain finality given his subsequent and upcoming projects) to his venereal horror canon.

Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a game designer who has engineered a new project she calls 'eXistenZ', a virtual reality game with a twist – players are required to be fitted with a bio-port at the base of their spine, a vaginaesque cavity that provides Cronenberg with a platform for his usual sexual preoccupations, though that's considerably more explicit in this film than in his earlier ones. The bio-port plugs into a pod, a bio-organic device that acts as a hard-drive for the game. Geller has assembled a group to trial the game and the room is full of intrigued witnesses. Suddenly, one of them leaps up with a flesh-made gun loaded with teeth (in order to avoid metal and synthetic detectors) and, with a cry of "death to the demoness, Allegra Geller!", he shoots the game designer in the shoulder before being gunned down himself by security.

Allegra escapes with her public relations trainee Ted Pikul (Jude Law) and the last remaining copy of eXistenZ encrypted to her bio-pod. She takes Ted to Gas (Willem Dafoe), a mechanic who runs an underground operation fitting bio-ports, to have Ted fitted so they can use Allegra's pod to investigate the game and conclude the trial. Things quickly go awry, and Ted and Allegra's journey blurs the line between reality and virtual reality, with enemies popping up at every turn.

At once, parallels between eXistenZ and Videodrome can be quite obviously drawn: the catch-cry of "death to the demoness, Allegra Geller!" recalls "death to Videodrome, long live the new flesh!", and Cronenberg's usual issues relating to physical evolution and devolution and sexual allegory are as clear as ever. Jude Law performing cunnilingus on Jennifer Jason Leigh's bio-port is about as explicit as Cronenberg's sex metaphors have ever gone, and the entire premise of Videodrome correlates with eXistenZ's bio-ports and pods as the technological takeover of humans.

But to digress – it would be ignorant to dismiss eXistenZ as a Videodrome rip-off because the similarities are only generally thematic, not specific. Cronenberg's script tackles the broader issue of existentialism in the context of a world becoming increasingly preoccupied with virtual realities and as a result, this film was sadly overshadowed by the bloated and vastly inferior The Matrix, released a month earlier. In some ways, visually and conceptually, eXistenZ is a better film than what Videodrome is – even ten years on it remains highly prescient, no easy feat with the rapidly changing nature of gaming technology. Cronenberg was closer to the cutting edge with this than he has been with any of the core themes of his other films and it's an issue that's unlikely to become obsolete any time soon.

Produced in Canada for around CAD$31 million, eXistenZ is Cronenberg's best-looking horror production. It's very polished, with some terrific camerawork by Polish cinematographer Peter Suschitzky, who has worked extensively with Cronenberg since Dead Ringers. The lead performers are quite exceptional as well, with Jude Law bringing his character a believable neurosis. Bit players Ian Holm and the ever-dependable Willem Dafoe are also pleasure to watch.

eXistenZ is an essential science-fiction/horror film for technological age. It's well deserving of a place in your collection.
Picture is presented in its OAR, 1.78:1, with 16:9 enhancement. Another commendable transfer, with the colours clean and no grain to note.
Two audio tracks, English and French, both in Dolby 5.1. It's an excellent transfer, with dialogue crisp and easy to understand. Veteran composer Howard Shore is on duty here and, like Suschitzky, he too is a long-time Cronenberg collaborator, working on projects as early as 1979's The Brood. It's a very good score that adds to the film's atmosphere well.
Extra Features
The Australian disc, while pristine audio-visually, is let down by an absence of special features. Talent profiles and theatrical trailers for this film and Gattaca are all we're given. Fans should look to the R1 Canadian release or the R2 UK release, which have audio commentaries by Cronenberg, Suschitzky and visual effects supervisor Jim Isaac, and a 54-minute visual effects doco.
The Verdict
Absolutely outstanding, this is Cronenberg's most technically accomplished horror film and will no doubt be his most lasting. Highly recommended.
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score

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