8MM (1999)

[8.0]

Nicolas Cage stars in this dark, disturbing mystery/thriller from screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker (Se7en, Sleepy Hollow) and director Joel Schumacher (Blood Creek, The Lost Boys). Cage plays a detective hired by a wealthy widow to determine if her late husband’s snuff film was real or fake. Cage travels to Los Angeles, where he meets up with a porn hustler played by Joaquin Phoenix. The two follow the clues to New York and end up quickly over their heads in no time, descending further and further into an underground subculture so unsettling, it can scar you forever.

Cage gives a terrific performance as a character whose professional detachment gives way to shock and disgust, then fascination and obsession. His character arc falls into sync with Nietzsche’s famous line, “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.” He becomes a broken man, with Cage keeping us invested in his development. Phoenix is amusing as the goth/punk porn connoisseur. He and Cage make such an interesting pairing, I wish they had more screentime together. Peter Stormare and James Gandolfini make the most of villainous roles, though the great Catherine Keener is a bit underutilized as Cage’s wife.

8mm is a disturbing film that holds few punches. I was surprised how far the film went in and beyond the gates of Hell, especially with regards to Cage’s character development. Despite the dark nature of the story, Schumacher manages to give the film its own kind of grim beauty, with great attention to detail found in the art direction, and an interesting blend of chorus and percussion in Mychael Danna’s score. If you’re ready to take a dark cinematic trip to the seediest depths of human depravity, Joel Schumacher and Nicolas Cage are first-rate tour guides with 8mm.

With Anne Gee Byrd, Amy Morton, Anthony Heald, and Norman Reedus.

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