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Human Rating: 3 / 5 Alien Rating: Crop Circle

It feels completely unreal...

David Cronenberg's movies are in a genre of all their own. When I phoned a friend to watch eXistenZ with me, he asked what it is about. I didn't bother with explaining that it is a virtual reality thriller, I just said, "it's a David Cronenberg movie." And without further adieu, my friend agreed to go watch it with me.

To recap: Canadian director David Cronenberg's movie output includes amongst others: The Dead Zone (1983), Videodrome, Naked Lunch, Crash, The Fly 1986 and Scanners. See what I see about them being a genre of all their own? No-one makes movies quite like Cronenberg does so when I say that eXistenZ is a "virtual reality thriller" you'll know that it'll have less in common with the clichés of cyberpunk movies like The Matrix (1999) and Johnny Mnemonic (1995) than it will with the director's previous output.

Thus eXistenZ shows Cronenberg's usual fetishism for misshapen body parts and organs as well as bodily fluids. It is not a movie for the faint-hearted or squeamish. The movie's title refers to a game of the same name - think of the usual holo-deck (as in Star Trek: Generations (1994)) total immersion mixed with your average "quest" game and you're getting close.

But the hardware in eXistenZ isn't your usual metal and plastic contraptions. They are organic in nature. The Sony Playstation-type console used to play the game looks more like some deformed rubbery liver (or worse!). It has "cords" that look like intestines, which are inserted into a hole at the bottom of the human player's back that goes all the way to the spinal cord. Beginning to get the idea?

eXistenZ is weird and surreal stuff indeed - precisely what one has come to expect from Cronenberg. While it touches on some issues similar to the hugely popular The Matrix (1999), it is ultimately a more thought-provoking and restrained movie. eXistenZ will slowly draw you into its plot (of which I do not want to reveal anything as to not spoil any surprises) and will no doubt leave you pondering on some of the issues it raises as you leave the theatre.

Purely as a virtual reality thriller it works well and hard sci-fi fans will be glad at having seen it. However, purely as a Cronenberg movie it disappoints because of a sometimes flagging pace, some inconsistent acting and because it is in the end too restrained and ambitious for its own good. But it remains worthwhile seeing.

Review by James O'Ehley from The Sci-Fi Movie Page.

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