Allegra Gellar (Leigh) is one of the world’s leading game designers; specializing in virtual reality worlds. Her newest creation is ExistenZ, and the film opens as she leads a group of dedicated gamers in a first test of the game. 12 testers join Allegra for the first wave of testing, using organic game controllers to download and join the virtual world. The test goes to hell when a crazed activist arrives and attacks Allegra with some sort of living weapon. That’s when marketing guy Ted Pikul (Law) is forced into the role of unlikely hero, whisking Allegra away from danger, and into the mystery behind who attacked them, what type of weapons they use, and the effect on eXistenZ.
Once the pair escapes, they meet for a roadside conversation, where Pikul cuts the ammunition out of Allegra. The pair determine that the weapon is all flesh and bone, and that the ammunition is human teeth. This provides the perfect weapon to bypass metal detectors and infiltrate Antenna Entertainment; the makers of eXistenZ. Pikul reveals that he has never played any of Allegra’s games. He can’t. He lacks the bio-port in order to jack into the game and play. The pair head to a local gas station at the middle of the night and run into “Gas’ (Dafoe), the late night mechanic/Allegra fanatic in charge of installing a port into Pikul.
Pikul gets his bio-port, and Allegra attempts to jack into his port to test eXistenZ, but the download fails, leaving the game trapped inside him and preventing her from entering the virtual world. Gas turns out to be a nasty bastard, looking to pick up the proposed $5 million for Allegra’s dead body. There’s a showdown, and a narrow escape, with Pikul taking his first, clumsy steps to becoming Allegra’s protector. Research shows that the assassination attempt was a creature made from modified DNA that only Antenna owns. Allegra jacks into Pikul with her repaired pod and joins him in ExistenZ. The two shift into the virtual world (which is more technological than the real world instead of relying on corny CGI, puppets or matte paintings. The actors must sell that they’ve moved into a completely new realm, despite not changing appearances at all.)
The next few scenes vary from heavy petting to dissecting frogs, and Pikul discovers a new identity in the factory called the trout farm. The couple follow instructions and attend lunch at the local Chinese restaurant, only to have a very rude awakening regarding the link between eXistenZ and the real world. Something other than Allegra and Pikul has transcended the boundary between reality and the game; the question becomes which is real and which is just a game?
There’s a good wrap up that ties things together pretty well, is good for a couple of laughs, and sets up even more questions. eXistenZ seems abstractly intelligent, but the execution seems to be missing a few lines to connect the dots until the final scene. The acting is exceptional across the board, and the film is well cast and has plenty of twists and turns along the way. Viewers are never certain what’s real and what’s not, and the characters’ motives.
The DVD from Dimension films hit shelves way back in 1999, and it shows. The film's packaging lists the aspect ratio as 1.77:1 when it is actually 1.85:1 widescreen anamorphic. The transfer still holds up well, but the lack of meaningful extras (a trailer and "film recommendations") is unfortunately par for the course for many early DVD releases.