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EXISTENZ

Canada / UK, 1999 (MIFF 1999, International Panorama)

Director: David Cronenberg

In the near future, a group of players gather to try out eXistenz, the latest in full-immersion VR game technology. eXistenz is the brainchild of the games world's most notorious genius, Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh), it incorporates experiences indistinguishable from reality and is utterly addictive. Players have gone so far as to have game ports surgically implanted in the base of their spines. Personalised game control pods are 'grown' by infusing fertilised amphibian cells with human DNA.

David Cronenberg, master of the macabre, returns to the themes and motifs of his early movies such as Shivers, Scanners and Videodrome. Tapping into contemporary paranoia and ubiquitous conspiracy culture, eXistenz the film plays at incorporating eXistenz the game into its narrative to the point where there is uncertainty as to what is authentic reality. It's a fascinating and totally involving stratagem that is seamlessly knitted into the narrative.

A Silver Bear Award-winner at the Berlin Film Festival, eXistenz follows Allegra as she goes on the run after an assassinaiion attempt. No-one is certain whether anti-game rebels, competition game companies or even her own employers want her dead. Under the protection of bodyguard Ted (Jude Law), the pair dodge covert operatives and perilous episodes before jointly entering the world of eXistenz and the lethal game within a game, transCendenz.

Inspired by the Fatwa issued against Salman Rushdie and sharing a similar brain-trying intensity as the fiction of Philip K. Dick (the literary source for Bladerunner and Total Recall), eXistenz is fearful fun by a director all too familiar with creeping dread.

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