8mm – Sex, Violence and a Roll of Film

With the pending release of Spielberg and Abrams’s effects-laden thriller Super 8, I thought it would be interesting to see another movie named after a film format.

In 8mm, Tom Welles (Nicholas Cage) is a private investigator and surveillance expert who is hired by the wealthy widow Mrs. Christian. While going through her recently deceased husband’s things, she uncovers what appears to be a snuff film depicting the death of a young girl. Welles is hired to discover whether or not the film actually depicts a murder. It isn’t long at all before Welles has plunged deep into the world of kinky pornography in his search for the girl in the film.

The film has no shortage of depravity; there is more than enough violence and nudity to go around.  It is not the most inappropriate film I have ever seen, but it definitely earns its ‘R’ rating.

The primary appeal of the film comes from its dark and lurid subject matter. For me, this is not all that appealing. Filmmakers are always trying to extract emotions and feelings from their audiences. The filmmakers of 8mm probably thought that they could shock their audience with unspeakable acts of depravity, but in today’s desensitized world, just showing someone shocking isn’t enough.

There is a scene towards the end of the film where Welles’s life is in grave danger. He is cuffed to a bed, his potential killer is approaching and the only way he can save himself is if he can stretch far enough to reach a nearby gun. This is not an especially original scenario, but what irritated me when I watched it was not that I knew that Welles would overcome all obstacles and emerge alive at the end of the scene, it was that I didn’t care that he would live. I felt no real connection with any of the film’s characters, probably because the film delves so far into depravity that the average viewer can’t really relate to anybody.

While I definitely did not like 8mm, I feel obligated to clarify that I did not hate it either. 8mm is a reasonably functional film. There are a few decent acting performances. Casting Swedish actor Peter Stormare as Dino Velvet, a kinky, violent and utterly degenerate pornographic filmmaker, was a good choice. The writing isn’t too cheesy. The film manages to do a very good job at consistently keeping its dark, mysterious tone throughout its entire run. I am saying all this so that I can make it clear that the primary reason I disliked this film was not because of quality issues, but because it had nothing to offer me as an audience member, either for its entertainment or social value.