David Cronenberg's latest is a strange and disturbing film that explores the dream-within-a-dream headiness of virtual reality with philosophical ambiguity and some seriously disturbing visions of the future. “eXistenZ” is the name of a new game system designed by Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Players plug into eXistenZ via a “bioport ” orifice implanted into the base of the spine whose squeamishly sexual qualities are used to good effect. Jacked into the bioport is an umbilical cord ending in a fleshy gaming interface. The 'joystick' is grown from mutant amphibians injected with synthetic DNA; it's a lumpy mound of flesh that players hold in their laps and quietly rub. (One of the movie's horrifyingly memorable scenes reveals that these new mutants taste rather interesting...)
eXistenZ's plot is slinky and slow-moving; the core of its mystery wraps around Jude Law as a geeky game virgin drawn into eXistenZ by the brazenly manipulative Geller. Law's neophyte act becomes cloying rather quickly, and Leigh's wanton bossiness is weary from the outset—eXistenZ is carried on the backs of its supporting cast, its ponderous and fantastical speculations on the future, and an unsettling array of bio-engineered animals and gaming interfaces calculated to make the viewer queasy. Willem Dafoe, Ian Holm, and others pick up the main actors' slack with a delightful array of supporting characters. The world painted by eXistenZ is relentlessly strange and uncomfortably familiar; in this combination lies its greatest triumph.