Dir: Joel Schumacher, 1999
Many films have dealt with the dark side of porn as a subject, but few of them can cause the viewer to feel so grubby.
Exploitation films focus on the sex and violence with gruesome detail, but 8mm is a mainstream movie that took a risk and could, easily, have alienated the people involved in Hollywood, much like Michael Powell and Peeping Tom.
Nicolas Cage is private investigator Tom Welles, hired by a wealthy widow to investigate the whereabouts and safety of a girl who appeared in a reel of film that was found in her late husband’s safe. The film shows the girl being brutally murdered.
Believing that what he has watched is a pornographic “snuff” film, Welles intergrates himself in the underground network of illegal pornography, searching for other “snuff” films that may feature the young woman.
The debate as to whether such films exist, is one that will continue to rage for some years to come. No evidence has ever surfaced or any proof found that confirm the reality of these films.
Because of the enigma surrounding snuff movies, they are a cause of interest and fascination so, therefore, prime material for a thriller.
Director Schumacher deftly shows the matter for what it is; a revolting and sickening type of film that churns the stomach of right minded people.
As someone who isn’t noted for their range of emotions, Cage does, surprisingly, well, with the overacting kept to a minimum. It does rear its head, occasionally, though as the scene where he’s watching the reel of murder, shows. It’s more comical than emotional.
Beginning as a mystery, 8mm ticks all the right boxes but writer Andrew Kevin Walker (Se7en), retreats to a cliched formula when it becomes an action film and with Joel Schumacher at the helm, things go a little OTT.
Joaquin Phoenix plays a drab and unrealistic character, Max California, the sex shop assistant who is roped in to aide Welles on his quest.
This is an instance of very poor and lazy writing as, being an employee at a sex shop, California is bound to know where all the illegal activity takes place and can gain entrance with little ease! It’s a ridiculous element that takes you out of the realism. The whole character could have done with being re-written or excluded altogether.
In the eighteen years since it was made, the world of illegal pornography has changed immensely and the film, now, looks a tad dated. At the time of its release, it held a certain interest with its use of 8mm film in a time when VHS and DVD was the norm. But, now, with the “dark net” and downloading, it’s anachronistic.
8mm works because you feel grubby during and after seeing it. That’s what the underground porn scene is.
A gripping and fascinating murder/mystery that delves deep into a murky world that we do not want to be part of.