“Virtual Nightmare” (2000) is an Australian television film adaptation of the 1955 science fiction short novel by Frederik Pohl. It was directed by Michael Pattinson and written by Dan Mazur and David Tausik (who two years earlier collaborated for a tv adaptation of Brave New World). Like the stories of Philip K. Dick and the late 90s wave of gnostic films such as Dark City, Fight Club, eXistence, Pleasantville, The Matrix, The Thirteenth Floor, The Truman Show, etc. (some of which were inspired/influenced by PKD), the plot centers on protagonists piercing the veil of a superficial and hegemonic consensus reality.
Astute viewers may also recognize plot elements reminiscent of a couple of other literary works which Pohl’s source novel predates: Eight O’ Clock in the Morning (1963) by Ray Faraday Nelson (a short story adapted into the 1988 film They Live and whose author happened to be a close friend of PKD’s), and The Futurological Congress (1971) by Stanislaw Lem (a satirical dystopian novel loosely adapted for the 2013 film The Congress).
Visually and technically, Virtual Nightmare is comparable to made for television and direct-to-home video sci-fi fare of the late 90s and early 2000s, but where it stands apart is its intelligent and compelling storytelling. It’s a prime example of how limited budget/FX and occasionally subpar acting can be transcended by a narrative addressing eternally relevant questions.
A big shout-out to Tom of Montalk.net for bringing wider attention to this diamond in the rough via random tweet.