Director: Joel Schumacher
Stars: Nicolas Cage, Joaquin Phoenix, James Gandolfini
Reviewed by Brian M. Sammons
In 1999 after two neon-drenched Batman movies, with a blockbuster break of A Time to Kill in the middle of that, director Joel Schumacher was getting a bit burnt out. He wanted to do something different. So when he heard about the scrip of 8mm, written by Andrew Kevin Walker who had just done a little thing called Se7en, he jumped at the chance to take it on. To be sure, Schumacher had done dark themes before, but he never did a film that dealt with pornography, child abuse, psychos, murder, and most of all, snuff films. And then to top things off, the movie would have Nic “The Bees” Cage as the lead. So was this walk on the dark side a trip worth taking or a journey best forgotten? Well, grab your skeevy trench coat, don’t make eye contact with anyone else in the theater, and let’s give 8mm a look.
Cage plays a private eye in the best noir tradition, but one with a loving family of his own. He is contacted by a recently widowed rich old lady who had found something disturbing while cleaning out her now-dead husband’s things. That thing being what appears to be a film of a young girl being tortured and killed in agonizing detail. A real-life snuff film. Cage tells the worried widow that such things are almost always fake but she nevertheless wants to be sure that it is, so she hires him to determine the validity of the snuff flick. Once on the case, Nic must wallow in the cesspool of porno, deviant desires, crime, and possibly murder. Along the way he meets many unsavory types, such as a detestable smut peddler played by James Gandolfini, but also a good kid who knows the seedy side of the city all too well played by a very young Joaquin Phoenix.
Much like earlier cautionary tales about the adult industry, such as 1979’s Hardcore starring George C. Scott, the film is almost exploitative in its subject matter. Nearly everyone Cage runs into is detestable in some way, and if this movie was just about the evils of skin flicks my eyes would never stop rolling. But this is about murder for entertainment. Death as a spectator sport and the kind of warped individual it would take to make such things. In that regard 8mmseems not only plausible but even prophetic if you stop to consider the dark web and what can be found there. Snuff films on video may or may not have ever been a real thing in the age of film and video, but in the internet age they sadly are a reality. So watching this film now makes it all the more powerful and it is far better made and acted than similar more modern efforts such as Unfriended: Dark Web and 2013’s The Den.
Let’s get to the extras that Scream Factory put on this new Blu-ray release. First there is an audio commentary from director Joel Schumacher. Schumacher also comes back for a 21-minute-long interview. There is a short vintage making-of featurette used for marketing that is five minutes long. There is also a theatrical trailer, TV spots, and a still gallery. That’s not a ton of special features, but it is far from barebones.
8mm is about as dark and gritty as Joel Schumacher ever got and he did make a fine film. Nicolas Cage showed that he still knew how to act and not just do his patented Cage freak-outs, Joaquin Phoenix was great as the jaded buddy, and James Gandolfini shows why he went from character actor to star of one of the best TV shows ever. I like this dark thriller a lot and I think you will too. So consider this one well recommended.