1999, Movie, R, 97 mins


Once and future king of venereal horror David Cronenberg marshals his trademark obsessions in the service of a creepy tale of corporate espionage and rubber reality. Twenty minutes into the future, Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh), superstar designer of virtual reality games that download directly into the player's nervous system via a permanent bioport (imagine a phone jack implanted at the base of the spine), prepares to guide a test group through her newest creation, eXistenZ. The demonstration is disrupted by an attempted assassination: Allegra has been marked for death by a fanatical anti-gaming group, and finds herself on the run with a timid marketing trainee named Ted Pikul (Jude Law). Allegra's biomorphic game pod, which contains the only copy of eXistenZ, was damaged by her would-be killer, and she's as concerned with salvaging it as she is with saving her own skin. So she persuades the reluctant Pikul, a gaming virgin, to enter the more-real-than-real world of eXistenZ with her: Soon it's hard to tell where reality ends and the game begins. Cronenberg's first original screenplay since the seminal VIDEODROME actually feels like a continuation of it: The "temple of the new flesh" has taken root, consumers are entertaining themselves to death, and the new underground is made up of wet blankets who decry the corrosive effect of joyriding down the back roads of the mind. If this new film seems less prescient than its predecessor, it's only because reality is rapidly catching up with Cronenberg's warped imagination. Never a subtle filmmaker, he's nevertheless eerily attuned to the grotesque underside of contemporary cultural trends. How perfect that so flesh-obsessed a filmmaker should evince such a visceral (if you will) distaste for the thrills of virtual-reality gaming. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh

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