‘Between Worlds’ Review: Come for the Cage, Stay for the Cage (Fantastic Fest 2018)

Nic Cage is back to making poor career decisions for our entertainment.

Picture this scenario: You’re hanging out in a dirty old alleyway next to a pizzeria. It’s around closing time, you’ve had a long night, you’re hungry. The smell of dough from the nearby joint has your attention. Shortly after, someone comes out with the evening’s leftover pies and tosses them into the garbage. What would you do? You dive head-first into that dumpster and get to work on that grub like there was no tomorrow — knowing fine well that it’s a terrible idea. And you know what? Maybe the pizzas would even be tasty. Sure, sitting among rotten garbage surrounded by diseased rats would be gross, but at least the delicious crusts and cheese would make it worth the hassle.

I use this analogy not because I recommend eating throwaway food from some dirty places. I use it because it’s how I feel as a Nicolas Cage fan sometimes. Those of us who follow Cage have accepted that he’s a tasty dish, sure. But he’s a tasty dish that’s often found rotting in filth.

Which brings me to Between Worlds, written and directed by Maria Pulera. It’s not a good movie. Like, at all. If you thought that the acclaim garnered from Mandy was going to usher in a Cage renaissance, you’re mistaken. Whenever you think a mainstream comeback could be on the cards, he’ll lend his talents to lesser films like this and remind us that he’s too much of a loose cannon to care about reaching the heights he’s capable of. It’s why I love him. Even when the movies are terrible — like Between Worlds is — I respect that he’s marching to the beat of his own drum.

In his latest destined for Redbox outing, Cage plays Joe, a down-on-his-luck truck driver who can’t catch a break. His rent is late and his job isn’t paying the bills. His wife and daughter are also dead. But when he meets a woman being choked in a public restroom, his life is changed forever. It turns out that she wanted to be assaulted so she could bring her daughter back from the spirit world, and her ability to do this re-introduces Joe to an old flame.

Later, the woman’s daughter wakes up from a coma. They assume that she’s returned from the spirit world all fine and dandy. However, it turns out that Joe’s jealous dead wife has crossed over instead and possessed the body. She isn’t happy to see Joe moving on, you see, banging women he met in toilets. So she sets out to get her man back by using her newly-acquired young body and knowledge of his haunted past. And Joe is more than happy to have all the sex.

As far as love triangles go, Between Worlds scores points for originality. Seeing a mother and daughter fall for the same guy is a familiar Skinemax trope. Having one of them be possessed by a ghost at least adds some original sizzle to the situation.

Still, Between Worlds isn’t without its merits. A great ceramic artists can make beautiful vases from horse feces. Cage’s performance here is a joy to behold and he chews scenery in the magnificent ways only he can. One minute he’s drunkenly lumbering through scenes with all the subtly of a bull in a china shop. The next he’s letting his inner sexual beast roar as he gets jiggy with it on couches. There are some serious moments of soap opera-esque melodrama, and in one scene he has a water fight with his reincarnated wife and it’s arguably the happiest and most carefree he’s ever been. Most people will go into this to see Cage be, well, Cage, and in that sense they won’t be disappointed.

Penelope Mitchell also gives a fun performance. She plays the young woman who’s possessed by the spirit of the deceased spouse and doesn’t hold back. Her character’s purpose is limited to seducing our protagonist, but she displays an undercurrent of campy menace throughout that explodes enjoyably so towards the end. She has some bigger and better projects coming up, and one day she might refuse to talk about this movie.

Unfortunately, waiting for the laugh out loud moments involves sitting through some sloggish parts as well. The movie gets off to a flyer and ends on a comedic high, but that middle chunk is mostly a chore. The writing, scoring, editing, and basically everything that isn’t Cage or Mitchell, is so poorly handled that your brain will eventually start asking you if there’s more to life than watching bad Nic Cage movies. That said, there’s some charm to the ineptitude and the viewers who’ll seek this movie out won’t care about professionalism anyway.

With movies like this you need to swim through sewage to get to the treasure. But there is some gold to be found in this sunken voyage. I wholeheartedly recommend Between Worlds to you masochistic connoisseurs of DTV junk food (the poisonous gas station kind). The rest of you will gain nothing from watching this.

Kieran Fisher: Kieran is a Contributor to the website you're currently reading. He also loves the movie Varsity Blues.