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Combining two fields of interest of director David Cronenberg – the mediated-reality musings of Videodrome and the body horror of almost everything else he’s done – eXistenZ is about a video game designer dropping into the gamesworld she’s created, accompanied by a good-looking marketing trainee, to work out if it still all works after an assassination attempt on its creator. Jude Law is handsome and chiselled and pretty much perfect as the slightly blank computer-game virgin and Jennifer Jason Leigh also scores high as the programmer who’s developed a gaming environment so realistic that it makes real life look lacklustre. This parallel reality where industrial and organic coalesce (a gun that shoots human teeth, a cyberport that seems to share at least some of the functionality of a vagina) is Cronenberg territory par excellence, a space where he can riff on the effects of hard drugs, organic technology and two-headed mutant reptiles, while the likes of Ian Holm, Willem Dafoe and Sarah Polley flap about looking like they wish there was more for them to do. Would eXistenZ be better if more money had been spent on it? The air of fake reality is deliberate – Cronenberg is saying something about the nasty allure of the simulacrum, and if we’re being generous we could account for the slight failure of the stars to connect as deliberate too. Satirical, caustic, inventive but also predictable (of course they get trapped inside the game) and disjointed, eXistenZ also suffers from being released the same month, and dealing with strikingly similar themes, as The Matrix. Even that cyberport looks strangely familiar.

eXistenZ – at Amazon

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© Steve Morrissey 1999

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