Quick Takes: eXistenZ, Spider, A History of Violence

existenz_1eXistenZ (1999)
fourstar

Starring Jennifer Jason Leigh, Jude Law, Ian Holm, Willem Dafoe, Don McKellar, Callum Keith Rennie, Christopher Eccleston, Sarah Polley, Robert A. Silverman, Oscar Hsu
Directed by David Cronenberg

From what I understand, eXistenZ is Cronenberg’s last hurrah in the body horror genre. While I’m sad to know that there’s no more gross-out delights coming my way, you couldn’t ask for a better film to go out on. I literally loved everything about eXistenZ, start to finish. I’m a huge fan of Philip K. Dick, and while his influence is apparent in other Cronenberg films, eXistenZ is like the best Philip K. Dick movie that’s not actually based on a PKD story. Cronenberg expertly explores the world of video games and the inner workings of our minds, leaving you with much to consider and contemplate. When this came out in 1999, I immediately wrote it off because of its title’s seemingly dumb capitalization, but now I know you should never judge a movie by its title treatment! Super gooey, super fun, I loved it. There are times when a movie feels like it was made just for you, and eXistenZ is one such movie for me.

SpiderSpider (2002)
threehalfstar

Starring Ralph Fiennes, Miranda Richardson, Gabriel Byrne, Lynn Redgrave, John Neville, Bradley Hall, Gary Reineke, Philip Craig
Directed by David Cronenberg

Spider is about as opposite a movie from eXistenZ as Cronenberg could have made as a follow-up. Where eXistenZ is loud and grotesque, Spider is extremely subtle and disturbing. It’s a fantastic film, but probably one that would turn a lot of people off. It’s interminably quiet, with Ralph Fiennes mumbling all his dialogue (to great effect). Cronenberg never holds the audience’s hand and explains much of anything, either. We are an active part of the process, so decoding Spider and getting to know the character hinges completely on your engagement with the film. It’s the kind of film that takes a master craftsman to create, and with it Cronenberg one again proves how wonderful and unique a filmmaker he is.

historyofviolenceA History of Violence (2005)
threehalfstar

Starring Viggo Mortensen, Maria Bello, Ed Harris, William Hurt, Ashton Holmes, Peter MacNeill, Stephen McHattie, Heidi Hayes
Directed by David Cronenberg

Even though I’d never seen A History of Violence before, I went into it pretty much knowing exactly what it was about. A few years ago I saw Wu Xia, the fantastic Peter Chan film starring Donnie Yen that is sort of a remake of this film. But while I knew the central conceit, thankfully A History of Violence and Wu Xia are very different films that happen to share a few key plot points. A History of Violence initially doesn’t seem to have much in common with Cronenberg’s other films, but by the end I thought it was one of his best and most accessible works to non-horror fans. Cronenberg masterfully pulls together the threads to create a tense thriller that’s also surprisingly got a lot of humor, too. Definitely check it out! And Maria Bello is spectacular as Viggo’s wife; I can’t believe she’s not a more well-known actress!

End of Days (1999)

endofdays_1Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gabriel Byrne, Robin Tunney, Kevin Pollak, CCH Pounder, Derrick O’Connor, Miriam Margolyes, Udo Kier, Victor Varnado, Rod Steiger

Directed by Peter Hyams

Expectations: Arnold vs. the Devil has to be good, right?

twohalfstar


End of Days is one of what I presume is a handful of 1999 films to use the Y2K scare as a basis for their plot. Thanks to finally seeing the film 16 years after its release, where it’s known that nothing happened when we entered the new millennium, this plotline nostalgically reminded me of the days when the American public was controlled by simple fears instead of terrorism. But it also can be seen as a “fictional historical record” of what might have actually saved our collective butts from financial and technological doom. I already believe that Arnold can accomplish anything in movie land, from defeating an alien predator to carrying a baby to term, so I might as well think that he actually saved the world from destruction.

End of Days opens with a baby being born — no, not Arnold’s — and soon after a satanic nurse whisks her away to confirm her demonic birthmark and feed her some snake blood. Y’know, the usual. For all I know, this is what happens every time an infant is born, but for the sake of this movie, I’ll assume that this baby is special. And imagine that, it turns out she is! When she has grown to maturity, this child will be the wife of Satan, but she must remain a virgin until their coupling (which will somehow seal the Earth’s fate). The Catholic church has their own sect of elite priests devoted to stopping them —  they kick ass for the Lord — but it is private security officer Jericho Cane (Arnold Schwarzenegger) who ends up being the deciding factor in this holy war.

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