eXistenZ (1999) — Virtual reality and greasy grimy gopher guts

“You have to play the game to find out why you’re playing the game.”

Justin’s rating: This Steam game isn’t worth $0.99

Justin’s review: We all know that disquieting feeling when you just don’t get — or even like — a popular movie that everyone else is crazy about. But that isn’t just contained to mainstream efforts; it’s entirely possible to find that you really don’t click with a cult film that gets raves among your friends.

So it is with me and eXistenZ, the most ’90s spelling of a ’90s movie ever made. Other than The Fly, I’ve never really liked a David Cronenberg movie — yeah, I know, I’ll turn in my cult credentials — and I certainly encountered deep boredom and even annoyance both times that I sat through this 1999 virtual reality movie.

It seriously puzzles me why critics lavish praise over this wooden and confusing flick while ignoring just how incredibly bad all of the acting is and how coherent narrative seems nowhere near this screenplay. Oh, but it must be saying something deep and symbolic! That’s the deflection shield that goes up to handle bullets of truth.

Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Allegra Geller, “the best game designer in the entire world” who gets targeted at a demonstration for developing a new VR title called eXistenZ. She’s hustled off to safety by Ted Pikul (Jude Law), a marketing publicist who’s never jacked into the matrix before.

As the movie meanders from one stilted scene of acting to another, Allegra and Ted start to explore this game world to find out — I guess — some truth about this group that’s put a hit out on her. Because this is a Cronenberg film, the technology here is all organic and sexual and gross, but there’s no real good reason given for why this game system looks like something someone yanked out of the belly of a pig. And because it’s a Cronenberg film, about every other line of dialogue or action is some double entendre because that’s what makes critics sit up and applaud wildly.

For me, I’m sitting here with my hands held out going, “Why does there need to be a bone gun? Why does player choice not feature into this forced narrative game? Did he just lick her bio-port? Has no one ever taken an acting class?”

I’ll grant you that there are some visually interesting props and some territory for exploring gamer culture here, but eXistenZ is a dud that figures that if it acts weird and disgusting enough, then people will figure that it’s brilliant so that they don’t look stupid by stating the obvious. Me? I’m not afraid to look stupid. This is a bad movie that’s not worth your time.

DnaError’s rating: What if, like man, this rating was just like, in our heads man!?

DnaError’s review: I’ve said this before. I hate movies that start out promising but then erode into evil little nuggets of crapdom. Movies that get your hopes high before plunging you into the depths of boredom. eXistenZ is one of those movies. I heard some rumblings about this movie right after The Matrix was released, that is was a calmer, more cognitive movie about the nature of reality.

In reality it just thinks its smarter cause nothing explodes. Forget about making sense or being interesting, this is *philosophy* here!

Getting back on track, eXistenZ begins really good. The low-rent sci-fi world had the feel of a cyberpunk story. It is the *future* but everything is the same… kinda. People still have bad haircuts and old cars, but now they had squishy organic computers they treat like pets, guns that shoot teeth and umbilical cord wires. The world’s leading game company is presenting its newest project, eXistenZ, to a group of enraptured beta testers when an assassin tries to take out their lead designer and wackiness ensues. So far so good.

But then the movie begins the hoary sci-fi convention “Is this real or is it…..DUM DAH DUM…THE GAME!!?!?!” It’s not that the movie is stupid — stupid can be very fun (see Hackers) — but that it is DULL. Powerfully dull. The game world is a mess of weird accents, little surrealist props, heavy-handed sexual overtones, and a plot so convoluted that it makes Metal Gear Solid 2 seem clear by comparison.

(I’m going to take a geek time out here to rant about the Game created in this movie. No one would play this thing. It’s some kind of multiplayer RPG/Action thing, but you are forced into a character role and personality and the plot doesn’t advance without exact dialogue. Any MMORPG is about character-creation, and no matter what the game people will bring their own personality to it. RPGs have been pushing nonlinear storylines and multiquests for some time now and it’s turned out to be a lot more fun then the kind of limited, linear game world in the movie. Plus, I don’t care how realistic it looks, no one is going to play a game that takes place inside fish hatchery.)

The movie takes it own sweet time getting to the ending, which is the kind of “GOTCHA!” you should have seen coming from frame one. The actors aren’t interesting enough to warrant comment. I have a pet theory that every movie Jude law does has some strange sexual undertone, see his other movies, (Wilde, Gattaca, A.I, The Talented Mr. Ripley) and tell me I’m wrong. Speaking about movies Jude Law is in, go rent Gattaca. That’s the kind of great, intelligent low-budget science fiction this movie wants to be.

Didja notice?

  • Wow, that is one young Christopher Eccelston
  • There can be a single greatest game designer in the whole wide world
  • It’s like someone gutted a giant and made a game system out of its entrails
  • This crowd is awfully slow to react to a stilted gun-toting assassin
  • Always a good idea to move people after they’re shot
  • That’s not a phone, it’s a kid’s nightlight
  • The gun has a cavity
  • OK I’ve heard of hero worship but this is ridiculous
  • $38 million isn’t really that much for a huge VR game
  • All games can be paused? Guess you never played a multiplayer game before.

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