eXistenZ is destined to always be second choice. Looking for a David Cronenberg film that eroticises the unerotic? Your first choice is Crash; eXistenZ comes a distant second. Looking for a film that cursorily engages with videogaming culture before becoming a philosophical treatise on the nature of reality? The Matrix does that better than eXistenZ, and even has kung fu.
It’s not that eXistenZ is an utterly awful film; it’s just outclassed. Its narrative feels confused and erratic before it reveals its greater purpose in a well-executed last act twist. That twist lends eXistenZ its slender charm – it recontextualises the story, letting the film work as a meta-commentary on filmmaking. Problem is that it also provides an excuse for poor acting and mediocre storytelling; without the twist, the film has little to recommend it. Certainly not the acting, which is alternately robotic (Jude Law) and deliberately over-the-top (Willem Dafoe). There are moments where the film earns that oh-so-overused adjective visceral, as you’d expect from a mid-career Cronenberg film (eg a gun that looks like it’s been made out of a chicken carcass drenched in amniotic fluid) … but gristly special effects aren’t enough to overcome the fundamental flaws of eXistenZ.