8MM (1999)

Here’s a movie that I didn’t know existed until very recently and was interested to see immediately after learning about it. The director, Joel Schumacher, has made some movies that I really like – mainly The Lost Boys and Falling Down. I also happen to be a fan of Nic Cage and will defend his overacting as actually being the actor equivalent of Neil Breen or Tommy Wiseau’s directing, where it is technically “bad” (though Cage can also be a good actor when he wants to be), but also is uniquely bad enough to take on its own style that happens to just exist outside of what is normally prescribed as good and proper art. And snuff films are an interesting phenomenon that feel a bit underused as a subject matter in movies, maybe because most people think it’s just too fucked up or maybe because it comes off as exploitative. I guess the latter is a reasonable position to take. Personally I think the premise of a private investigator (kind of, that’s not technically Nic Cage’s profession in the movie) getting the job to track down the origins of a snuff film and going through a Heart of Darkness-esque journey into an increasingly seedy underworld is perfect for a neo-noir thriller film, though a lot of people seemed to not like this when it came out.

One thing I’ve seen people comment on about this movie is how unrealistic the villain who shows up later in the film ends up being, the porn producer who views his films as art and is kind of a weird decadent sort-of goth guy with the name Dino Velvet. This annoys me because I happen to know that this character is 100% not at all unrealistic; there is a guy like this who literally exists who goes by the name Lucifer Valentine and makes what he considers to be “art” but is essentially vomit fetish films. He’s also reportedly (and entirely unsurprisingly) a sketchy as fuck abusive piece of shit. So I call bullshit on the idea that one of the main villains in the movie is unrealistic. People like him absolutely exist.

On the subject of villains, I generally really like how the villains in the movie are handled. The movie makes it clear that ultimately the evil that is the main subject matter of the film, the trafficking of women’s bodies through the porn industry, is an entirely banal one. Even when it comes to producing literal snuff films, everyone involved from the casting agent to one of the actors to the director to the person who commissioned the film are all doing it with the dispassion of doing a job or consuming a product. I can see someone arguing that this is some cliche movie logic, that the villains are just so coldblooded that to them killing someone is just business, or that the rich guy who produced the film is only doing it because he can, but again I feel like the movie is maybe unintentionally tapping into what the real world is actually like.

Aside from the abusive porn director with an extremely masculine ego about the artistic importance of his smut films, there’s the casting agent who openly says that girls like the one who dies in the film are a dime a dozen and get shuffled through the porn industry without ever being noticed or missed. He shows a bit of humanity towards the end before being executed by Nic Cage, clearly not actively enjoying participating in this business, but he also has been hardened by it and obviously knows not to think about it too much because it is much bigger than him anyways. There’s the actor in the film who kills the girl, who lives with his mother and is a pretty unimpressive looking balding guy; again you might say this is such a cliche, but just look at every serial killer ever. Many of them are pathetic slobs who only get away with killing people because they kill people that society doesn’t care about and because cops are generally pretty incompetent and indifferent when it comes to solving actual crimes. And finally there’s the rich guy who commissioned the film. You may say it’s cliche movie logic for the rich businessman to be secretly a pervert or a monster, but we live in a post-Epstein world where it’s abundantly clear that the rich and powerful do in fact abuse helpless women and girls purely because they can, because it gets them off knowing that they have the power to do the most unspeakable things (often in plain sight) and get away with it.

Other criticisms I’ve seen of the movie are that it doesn’t go far enough with portraying weird kinks that you can only find if you go deep into the underworld of the porn industry. I’m not sure how true that really is or if that’s the point of the film so much as to get to the heart of darkness in the porn industry where women and girls are being groomed and trafficked; shocking the audience with weird fetish stuff feels like it would just be a distraction from that. But the movie does also do a bit of that, showing scenes of people engaging in BDSM. It probably wouldn’t have hurt the film to do a better job of showing off just how sick and weird human desires can be before going straight into the CP and snuff, but focusing on it would cheapen the movie.

For me the main criticisms I have of the movie are that it’s one of the most extreme examples of a movie failing the Bechdel test. Nic Cage’s wife throughout the movie is constantly on the phone, constantly taking care of their baby, basically not playing an active role in the plot of the movie at all. The women in the film are all victims who don’t really play an active role in the plot, which is appropriate in a sense but also feels like a missed opportunity since in practice what this does is just exchange women’s bodies from the hands of the abusive human trafficker men in the porn industry to the benevolent authority figure man (Nic Cage). It’s also kind of ironic considering that so much of the movie is about Nic Cage’s character becoming obsessed with a teenager who was groomed by the porn industry and then killed in a snuff film, yet the movie isn’t really critical of how domesticity is only a less benign form of fundamentally the same power structures in which women’s bodies can only be exchanged between men either in the form of marriage or sex work. I also said before that the movie seems to make it clear that the plot of it isn’t exactly unique, it’s one small piece in a larger world where this sort of abuse happens constantly, but the overall narrative arc of the movie focuses on this one specific instance of it and seems to ignore entirely the systemic nature of it. It ends up having a sort of masculine individualist vigilantism theme that again works into the overall problem in the film of the division between the domestic and public sphere of life, where a man has the sole authority over his one small parcel of this, and the rest of the world is meant to be ignored and not engaged with in a way that could result in systemic change or at least a critique of systemic problems.

But I’m digressing. This isn’t a feminist film obviously, it’s just a cash grab that was meant to ape off the success of David Fincher’s Seven. I nevertheless found enough that was interesting about it to write out one of the longer reviews so far in this series of film posts, so I would say it’s worth checking out.

Created: 2022-10-14 Fri 16:55