8MM
Directed By: Joel Schumacher
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Columbia Pictures

Synopsis: A private detective is hired to determine the authenticity of a snuff film.

Overview: Remember when you were a teenager and you watched movies with your friends, and you didn’t know anything about movies, and it didn’t matter? I feel like most of my teen years were spent watching trashy 90s action/thrillers that, looking back, weren’t that great (but were super great in their lack of greatness.)

8MM is one of those types of movies, the ones where you make a giant bowl of extra buttery popcorn and sit down to zone out for 123(!) minutes. Recently I had a guest staying at my house for a few days, and, like normal, we found ourselves sifting through the Netflix archives for something to watch. She asked me if I’d seen 8MM, and I said, “No, actually, but I love Nicolas Cage,” which any normal person would definitely say. She said it was one of those dark, gritty movies that makes you feel kind of gross after watching it, if you like that kind of thing. Of course I like that kind of thing; that’s exactly how I want to feel after watching a movie. So after dropping her off at the airport I went home and watched it immediately. 8MM delivers on that promise to, stay with me, a hilarious degree.

Cage stars as Tom Welles, a private investigator on a very special mission. He’s been hired by a wealthy widow who discovered what appears to be a snuff film of a young girl being murdered in her deceased husband’s private possessions. She’s desperate to find out if it’s real while keeping it quiet on the side to protect reputations. Tom is a “good guy” with a wife (Catherine Keener) and baby at home and it’s clear from the get-go he lets his morals be his guide, even at his own expense, so it’s only natural that he takes on this case. There’s a nice dash of melodrama that begins with Cage’s exaggerated dramatic response to viewing the snuff film, a handful of moments where performances seem like just a touch too much, but the all-star cast really works with it to the bitter end.

This Cage flick is chock full of fun surprises, my favourite of which is Max California, a quirky sex-shop worker played by Joaquin Phoenix who is only destined to steal more hearts. Watching him in this role is worth the entire overlong film. His belly shirts, eyebrow ring, and blue hair are kind of adorable, especially when he’s sneakily reading Truman Capote under the counter while selling battery-operated vaginas. Our illustrious private investigator takes note of this, and uses Max for his intelligence and connections to the underground world of dirty fetish sex. It’s kind of problematic to lump in S&M and body modification with kiddie porn and snuff, but it happens in this film. Cage and Phoenix go to filthy locales and thumb through the “sick shit” to find out who is responsible for the murder video, meeting a myriad of weird people along the way. Eventually, and most delightfully, Peter Stormare appears playing his signature greasy villain role to perfection.

Sometimes 8MM feels like it’s trying too hard to be edgy, and there’s something endearing about that. In the end, it’s another story about a detective who turns his job into an obsession, and how that changes him and affects the people around him. It is gross at times, tense at others, and sometimes inappropriately funny. “I’m laughing a lot, but I don’t know if it’s funny!” I texted the friend who recommended it to me. “Uh, to weirdos it is,” she replied. That’s probably fair. You can decide for yourself in the comfort of your own home, thanks to Netflix.

Featured Image: Columbia Pictures