Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie's plot.
Sue me, I waited a million years to see this even though "everyone else" told me it was good because, quite frankly, when "everyone else" loves a movie I usually hate the movie and I get tired of dealing with that. But I got tired of hearing about it one day so I decided to check it out. I'll be damned, score one for "everyone else," this movie blew me away. Nicholas Cage slips easily into the role of investigator slowly morphing into an action hero as the movie progresses. It starts out simply enough, a rich old woman whose husband has just died finds a film in his personal safe that appears to show a young woman being murdered. She then hires Cage to investigate and confirm whether the film is real or fake. Cage take the case thinking he will be able to provide for his baby daughter's college with the fortune he might be able to charge for this investigation, but he's skeptical. I would be, too. In the 70s, the heyday of the exploitation film, there arose a rumor about movies that showed actual victims, not actors, being killed. These films were dubbed "Snuff" films, but they've never been proven to exist. We discussed these "snuff films" once in a college literature class I took, and once we were told that "snuff films" were filmed record of actual murders sold for entertainment and titillation purposes, one of the students asked the brilliant question "Isn't that illegal?" No.
No, it's illegal to kill someone UNLESS you film it. I weep for the future of our criminal justice system. But anyway, the concept of snuff films is intriguing, with all the people who seem to be entertained by watching people suffering (the more real the better as the current reality TV trend would suggest) it begs the question of whether people would actually take the risk of making such a film. This question was examined boringly in the 70s with the film "Snuff" which is purported to have started all the snuff mayhem, and since then we've seen other variations on the theme of filming people dying for fun and profit ("Cannibal Holocaust," "The Last Horror Movie," "Head Case," etc.) but it's mainly been horror directors who wanted to tackle the subject of people filming others dying for entertainment purposes.
8MM succeeds precisely by being different, posing as a straightforward thriller showing a "normal" guy who ventures into the world of hardcore pornography to find out if a suspected snuff film is real, and this guy slowly becomes obsessed with what he sees until his entire life is altered by the evil. As one character in the movie puts it, "If you dance with the devil, the devil don't change. The devil changes you." Watching the film, I couldn't help but muse that with special effects as they are today, any real snuff film might not actually be discovered. The snuff film that the filmmakers made for 8MM looks real enough and yet it isn't, it was filmed for the purpose of showing in this movie. With a system of hardcore pornographic filmmakers as complex as the one shown in this movie, it makes one wonder if such movies could and indeed ARE being made undetected in this country today.
Yes, that's unlikely with the risk involved, but the "what if" proves intriguing enough to draw the viewer into the premise of this movie. As soon as Cage's detective enters the pornographic world, he discovers that people will watch almost anything in order to get off, and that this need for ever more graphic imagery fuels the sordid porn industry to produce ever more graphic material and thus a twisted symbiotic relationship is born.
It's difficult to tell if the film is meant to be a polemic against porn, and at times it would seem so, with characters like a clerk at an adult bookstore saying things like "hey, I don't use or endorse the stuff, I just point people in the right direction," but whatever your views on the great porn debate, the movie succeeds in being entertaining, and despite its rather heavy-handed moments, it ends with a satisfying cocktail of sordid depravity and sweet revenge. Those of us who enjoy hardcore horror films might scoff at Cage's reaction when he first watches the film, flinching and crying out when the girl is murdered, because at that point he still believes the movie is fake, and even later, watching hardcore bondage films that aren't real, he reacts the same way. Or perhaps I'm the only one who scoffed because I'm a heartless jerk. It just seemed forced. But it DOES show his character's progression from being appalled at even fake violence to being willing to commit real acts of violence when the need arises. As with most other things in the film, it may not be subtle but it gets the job done.
For a well-respected actor, Cage sure likes to deliver dialogue like he's cold reading lines from a script. It doesn't happen very often but when it does, it's very annoying and it definitely draws me out of the world of the movie.
I'll admit, I've watched porn. I even own some. And while I don't really get the point of it, I certainly don't think it's evil and I really don't care what other people watch or do to get off, so I didn't join the movie in looking down on the fans of hardcore bondage films. But despite looking down on the sexual proclivities of some, the film smartly draws a line between the hardcore bondage films, however real they may appear, and the real murder of the girl on film, which everyone should agree was a terrible crime. I watch people get slashed and stalked and tortured in films almost every day, but I don't condone torture or murder. Although the funny thing is, by building to the crescendo of revenge the way this film does, it seems to be saying that some violence is indeed a necessary evil. Perhaps when faced with an evil that refuses to stop, people who've been pushed to the edge have no choice but resort to violence. Hey, I'm not saying that, the movie is. And despite its flaws, it conveys its story and its message well.
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Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: Better than Watching TV
Suitability For Children: Suitable for Children Age 13 and Older