A surprisingly great movie. I mean, it’s Cronenberg so I oughtta like it, but at the same time it’s a late 90’s virtual reality thriller… not the kind of thing you can easily recommend to people, after the blitz that was Dark City, The Cell, The 13th Floor, The Matrix, and to a lesser extent, 1995’s Strange Days / Virtuosity / Johnny Mnemonic. But Cronie has been comfy working with virtually unreal worlds for decades, after Naked Lunch and Videodrome, and his movie easily stands above those others (not to knock Dark City).
It’s not the story, which is fine, or the is-it-real-or-not bits, which are well played and not overdone or inexplicable, it’s the look of the thing, the sleek style and great lighting… the compositions, which are uniformly attractive without calling attention to themselves or drowning the film in stylistic tricks. It’s genre sci-fi filmmaking that is so good it looks effortless. It won a silver bear in Berlin for outstanding artistic achievement, but was understandably ignored everywhere else.
Jude Law and Jennifer Jason Leigh (spoiler alert: last 90 seconds) are underground realists out to destroy the creators of virtual-reality video games. They play the premiere of a new game with its creator (Don McKellar)’s participation, along with gamers Ian Holm, Willem Dafoe and others.
Next level: JJL is premiering her new game to a crowd of excited gamers, but when an underground realist tries to assassinate her, security guard JL comes somewhat to the rescue and they go on the run together. Along the way they meet Willem Dafoe, Ian Holm and Don McKellar, but it’s never clear who’s on their side.
Various sub-levels back and forth. The “game pods” are organic, and plug into bio-ports in your spine, but on some levels it’s a mini gamepod that merges with your spine directly. There’s spy business at a chinese restaurant, acknowledged fake accents, CGI insects, a few killings and close calls, and the deadly spoooores.
Has the game-life analogies you’d expect from the genre and the body-horror, sexuality and organic technology mix you’d expect from Cronenberg. Seeing the movie for a second (third?) time, it’s nice to see that the movie really doesn’t trick you, that the ending makes sense. Whether the ending is the really real “real world” or if we’re still within a simulation doesn’t matter, since of course the movie itself is a simulated reality.