Film reviews

eXistenZ – Blu-ray Review

Starring: Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Christopher Eccleston

Directed by: David Cronenberg

Way back in 1999, while we were panicking about the world coming to an end and the millennium bug destroying our computers, macabre movie master David Cronenberg was taking a deep look into our developing relationship with video game technology and how it may someday come to destroy us.

Now, with the introduction of their “Black Label” brand, 101 films have brought eXistenZ to Blu-ray for the first time ever in the UK.

In the near future, gaming technology has evolved passed the game pad and the TV and moved on to a biological device called a game pod: a fleshy looking device that plugs into the player’s spine via a man-made umbilical cord to kick start a virtual reality experience like no other. 

Game creators have become rockstars and none more so than Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) who has brought together a group of players for a special preview of her latest game: eXistenZ. When her demonstration goes sideways at the hands of a would-be assassin, Geller must go on the run with her marketing assistant Ted Pikul (Jude Law), who also unwittingly doubles up as her security guard. Together, the pair have to survive on the road in a world that seems intent on wanting the pair dead. As targets for the world’s so-called “Realists” – people who don’t believe in the technology the rest of the world has embraced – Geller and Pikul have to call upon all the resources they can to stay alive and keep the game maker’s pod, the only version of her game to exist, in one piece.

Moving on from the fears of the turn of the millennium hasn’t done eXistenZ many favours. While the film is still wonderfully gross and pure David Cronenberg through and through, it will struggle to find an audience with those that don’t remember its release day as fondly as others. That said, eXistenZ is still a ton of fun and beautifully forward thinking in its delivery. The horror maestro has never been one to shy away from the trials of the times (or the trials he could see coming); and the beginning of a technological revolution that would lead us to a world where we are all but surgically connected to our electronics that we worship was, and is, the perfect setting for the Canadian filmmaker.

The story beats we see on screen aren’t necessarily new or original, but mixing in a few classics like black market technological surgeries and double crossing friends for profit, with a wholly fresh ideas like a biological pistol made from bone that fires teeth, give Cronenberg an edge in a world where your average sci-fi thriller is dated and forgotten far too easily.  While not the most immersive world the inventive director has put to screen, the world that eXistenZ exists in is well realised and, at a crisp hour and 37 minutes, never outstays its welcome. The B-movie shlockiness is a pleasure to watch fall apart around the ears of those trying very hard to put on a great performance.

Included in the new Blu-ray release are a couple of interesting little commentary tracks from journalists Kim Newman and Ryan Lambie, and Mondo Digital’s Nathanial Thompson; the latter being the slightly more interesting of the two. The only other new feature is a recent interview with Christopher Eccleston on his time with Cronenberg and filming eXistenZ that gives some good insight to the film’s production.

All the other special features have been ported over from the original DVD release. The best of those are a commentary from the legendary director himself, and a special effects featurette that shows the work of acclaimed production designer Carol Spier.

Trying to do for video games what Videodrome did for television, Cronenberg’s stepping stone from pure body horror to the far more straight-laced thrillers and dramas is a wonderful one. eXistenZ is a fun, if slightly dated turning point in the director’s career that is worth having in your Blu-ray collection.

Brand New Extras:

• 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.

Additional Extras:

• 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
• Trailer

ExistenZ is now available from 101 Films Black Label.

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