Sometimes a truly weird Nicolas Cage film can slide between the cracks, slip beneath the floorboards, never to be discovered. This is a pitiful shame that needs to be avoided at all costs. Between Worlds recently released on DVD and has been available to rent streaming (but who streams major cinematic works, am I right?) for a while, and I’m afraid it’s going to be lost to time. We need to acknowledge Between Worlds. Not necessarily as a good movie, mind you, but as a really damn weird one with Nicolas Cage just pouring his heart and soul into it.
It may very well be one of the weirdest movies he’s ever made.
Director: Maria Pulera
Release: February 26 (DVD)
The setup for Between Worlds is something like if a PornHub algorithm chewed up a bunch of taboo searches and spit out a video: A single mom who sees ghosts when men choke her uses her powers to bring her teenage daughter back to life with the help of a trucker. She brings this trucker home, has sex with him as payment, and invites him to live with them. Little does she know, however, that her daughter is seducing the trucker because she’s possessed by the spirit of his dead wife. Hot.
So, off we go as Joe (Nicolas Cage) finds Julie (Franka Potente) being choked in a truckstop restroom and beats the man choking her to a pulp. Soon he finds out, though, that he didn’t help and might actually be responsible for Julie’s daughter’s death, because ever since almost drowning as a child Julie can see spirits when she suffocates, and she was using her power to keep her daughter’s spirit inside the body after a terrible motorcycle accident. That’s what Joe gets for not minding his own damn business.
Joe, drunk and miserable, shows Julie a picture of his own wife and daughter, and when she comments on how beautiful they are, he pulls the picture away and shout-sings “Oops! They’re dead!” in a tone that will play on the soundboard inside my head for the rest of my life. Anyway, Julie needs a ride to the hospital, and Joe takes her there only to choke her in the stairwell in a final bid to save her daughter. After a nurse with an accent warns them to keep an eye on the girl because she’s seen the other side, they proceed to bring her home. Joe knows something is up, though, as daughter Billie (Penelope Mitchell) keeps staring at him and acting like she’s known him forever. Soon he’ll find out that the girl’s soul didn’t return to her but rather that of his own wife who’s been haunting him ever since she died with their daughter in a house fire. And, as it turns out, his wife is horny as hell.
It’s all incredibly tawdry and sleazy, and I don’t think it should be any other way. Between Worlds drools a Southern Gothic griminess that’s a lot of fun to watch, though that’s no excuse to fumble in the editing room. Scenes sometimes don’t to follow a logical order. One early moment has Billie clearly giving Joe a handjob under the blankets while they sit on the living room couch and Julie makes dinner. Joe does nothing but let it happen (this is before he knows she’s possessed by his wife), doesn’t even push her hand away a single time. This seems like it would create some strange, tense moment when Julie walks into the room, or Joe would shove Billie off him in a sudden moment of clarity, or there’d be some flicker of intimacy between the two of them, but no. It just cuts away halfway through that moment, and it’s never mentioned or nodded at again. Later, when Billie tries to seduce Joe for real while Julie is away, Joe tries playing prim and proper as if he didn’t get an old fashioned ten minutes ago, and Billie doesn’t even bring it up as a reason he shouldn’t act all high and mighty. It’s like that moment never occurred, but I know what I saw, and it was far from subtle enough to be mistaken for anything else. Also, the final scene is this weird flashback, and I’m not sure how it lines up much with any other part of the movie, especially as a note worth ending on.
The bulk of the film is structured just fine as it’s Joe having sex with Billie and Julie a bunch, and Cage is certainly game for it. At one point, he smokes some pot, cackles in this wild and uncontrollable manner while talking about how Billie might have mental damage after her near-death accident, and then proceeds to shout at Julie to scream “Fuck me!” like in The Exorcist as she rides him. It’s odd, and I think he might have been high and didn’t really have a script. Or maybe it was all scripted, and he’s just that good. There’s no way to know for sure.
And I mean that genuinely. If Nicolas Cage wasn’t already an international celebrity, he’d have all the markings of a B-movie icon. His performances always have a way of elevating what’s around them. Where someone like Bruce Campbell leans into the cheesiness of a film with machismo and charisma to spare, Cage does something of the opposite, tearing himself apart to reach some obscene emotional height that twists camp into art. He’s so invested, so committed, that you can’t help but follow him there. As long as he’s not playing it straight, Cage can turn trash into pure spectacle.
And there’s no better word than spectacle to describe Nicolas Cage having furious sex with the teenage girl who’s possessed by his dead wife while reading from a book of their sexual memories like it’s a dimestore erotic novel and then having an explosive orgasm. It’s one of those moments where you have to remind yourself that yes, you just saw that. Yes, it really happened. Yes, someone decided to commit that to film, bless their hearts.
Once Joe devises a plan to escape with his brand new reincarnated wife, the film takes a turn to something like an especially sleazy episode of Twin Peaks, all soap opera plotting leading to a thoroughly surreal climax. It’s also a bit incomprehensible, because the mechanics of Julie’s ghost powers are built more for convenience than understanding. Not that you’ll care too much when Nicolas Cage is on his knees gripping a Jack-in-a-box and screaming for his daughter while Billie, Julie, and a drug dealer all point guns at each other. It’s just super weird, and sometimes that’s more than enough.