A private investigator is hired to discover if a "snuff film" is authentic or not.
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If the sordid world of pornography is a swimming pool of infection, then 8MM is the diving board. A decent into the abyss of human perversion, Nicolas Cage gives a somewhat flat portrayal of a private detective, hired by the very crust of society to track down a missing girl who is thought to have disappeared into the very depths of the adult entertainment world.
The word entertainment is not used lightly here as there are very few topics which catch the eye of humanity more so than the promise of sex, regardless of its form.
Written by Andrew Kevin Walker (Se7en & Sleepy Hollow), 8MM explores the darker sides of the porn industry, specifically the world of Snuff. For those who haven’t seen the film or who aren’t familiar, snuff is a form of stimulant for the particularly grim minority of society, whereby an actual death or murder occurs on film.
(Note that you only see a brief glimpse of the actual snuff footage since the movie initially received an NC-17 rating and had to be trimmed for a more acceptable R-rating.)
On a trail to find a young girl suspected of briefly starring in a snuff film, Nicolas Cage, a family man turned PI learns more about himself than the particulars of the porn industry. With the help of a sex shop clerk played by Joaquin Phoenix, Cage ultimately unravels the nauseating fate of the girl in question but at high cost to his own life. To quote from the movie "You dance with the devil, the devil doesn't change. The devil changes you”.
Cliché’s aside, the film is actually worth seeing.
The plot itself is not unlike Hardcore (1979), a film about a P.I hired to track down a missing girl after she runs away and is seen in an 8MM porn movie. Sound familiar?
Sexual perversion aside, this film is fascinating at takes a look at a subject somewhat unknown to the average movie go-er and thus holds our attention throughout. If you are expecting to see a film rife with sex and adult exploits, you will be disappointed. The story seeks more to horrify the audience than thrill, with very little actual nudity or sex shown on screen. Rather cleverly, Schumaker calls on us to use our own imagination, and let’s face it, what we are capable of imagining if far worse than anything which could be shown to us on screen.
Joel Schumacher has an affinity for dark and 8MM is certainly that. The grey tones of the film compliments is topic, leaving you afterwards feeling very much in need of a shower.
The let down of the film, I’m sorry to say for all the Nic Cage fans out there, was, for me, Cage. Usually a fan I was disappointed by the woodenness off the character and somewhat monotone manner in which he presented himself. Coupled with the cliché wife (Catherine Keener) and baby, I felt the story would have been served better if they went with Max California (Phoenix) as the main protagonist. The character of Max gives us an insight into the gritty underbelly of failure in Los Angeles, and how often failure leads to the sex industry.
Many compare 8MM to Se7en, an earlier work by Schumaker, but for me, there is no comparison. 8MM wins hands down. It offers a unique story, a unique perspective on that story and presents us with horrifying realities we would rather forget. Sure, Se7en was clever and Morgan Freeman certainly tops Cage for performance, but 8MM was unapologetically honest. Take out the underdeveloped, underwritten characters and shaky plot holes, and the topic is truly fascinating. In fact, for once I am going to go against my usual instincts and hope they do a re-make, but improved.
If you’re hoping for a happy ending with this film, it doesn’t happen. Cage survives albeit changed and scarred by his experiences, but the lack of empathy for his character throughout the film does tend to give you a ‘who cares’ attitude at the end. The standard shot of the wife and baby in the window looking out on their changed ‘man’ is overdone and a let down.Overall I would recommend seeing the film despite the discussed flaws. It is Film Noir at its best, or should I say worst?