Genre: Dystopian Sci-Fi Drama/Thriller
Starring: Jude Law, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Willem DeFoe, Christopher Eccleston
Director: David Cronenberg
Another film that came from a distant memory, vaguely recalling a film watched on late night TV back in my early teenage years – one of those few films that I seemed to recall well enough to track down – and with my interest in Sci-Fi it seems only natural that sooner or later I would stumble upon it again. Written and directed by the same man who infamously directed 'The Fly' and 'Scanners;' what I didn't realise at the time was the wealth of talent that had gone into its creation. Not in the least is there the minor roles of DeFoe (who last left his name burning in my mind with “Antichrist”) and Eccleston, but also with Jude Law taking a title role who after his work in “Gattaca” a few years earlier can probably hold the title of one of the most mature sci-fi actors around.
The film is based upon the technology of gaming and the way it has evolved into something more realistic; a dream current game enthusiasts seem to be striving for taken to extreme lengths. Biologically engineered organic 'machines' plug directly into your spinal column, drawing power from your own body and using your own mind as a source for inspiration in the unrelenting manner the unpredictable story unfolds. As the game creator (Leigh) is hunted by 'realists,' like religious fanatics devoted to the destruction of this fabrication of reality, they traverse this game world struggling to survive long enough to discover the conditions for victory, or even if there are any.
The story is less unfolded by the characters interactions with one another as it is with the game; character loops from NPCs indicating a certain sentence is required, or the subtle suggestion implanted into one of the players that an action is necessary in order to further the plot. It yields an overt sense that the situation is being thrust upon them – willing or not – and they have little option but to accept what must be done, regardless of how begrudgingly they carry them out according to the games will.
Slowly ensnaring you, drawing you into its own game reality and forcing you to constantly question whether the state their in is real; more so than the Matrix is this 'Inception-before-Inception,' but its also so much more. The effects may be dated and the budget smaller, but this never-ending, twisting and squirming tale never gives you the time to think before pulling in another direction, where reality and the game world are in constant battle with one another. There is a shortage of creative sci-fi films and as much as 'Dark City' or 'Blade Runner' before it, and particularly with the recent debates about the addiction of online gaming, ExistenZ deserves to be remembered as one of the few that got it right.