As the feature film debut for both director Daniel Goldhaber and writer Isa Mazzei, Cam is a very strong start.
The film follows an ambitious cam girl, Alice aka Lola (Madeline Brewer – Orange is the New Black, The Handmaid’s Tale) as she navigates the highs and lows of the ratings system on an erotic webcam site.
Alice is dedicated to breaking the ranks and becoming one of the top performers on a site populated by the perkiest and brightest cam girls. She curates her daily shows to maximize engagement with her audience and goes the extra mile to develop a personal relationship with some of her top tippers. Just when things are looking up for her ranking, Alice discovers that she’s been locked out of her account – but her live shows are still running, hosted by her spitting image. As her world crumbles around her, Alice struggles to reclaim her identity and solve the mystery of what the hell happened to her channel.
Writer Isa Mazzei is a former cam girl herself. She drew from her personal experiences and the industry’s anxieties to develop a unique story about a woman’s agency over her own identity and sexuality. Cam puts a mysterious identity theft spin on the techno-thriller subgenre we’ve mostly (recently) seen explored through “technology gone awry” films like Ex Machina and Morgan, and “security breach” horror like Unfriended and Open Windows.
From a technical standpoint, Cam succeeds in bringing the uninitiated viewer into the world of the erotic cam girl. Without beating us over the head with exposition, we gather information about Alice’s activity, her boundaries, her goals, and the cutthroat competitive streak that’s needed to truly succeed.
Cam keeps focus with a phenomenal performance from Brewer who is front and center in every single scene. Brewer faces the challenge of playing several different “versions” of her character; we see Alice as her off-camera self in different environments, Alice as on-camera Lola, Alice as private session Lola, imposter Lola as Lola, and more.
Brewer infuses each version of herself with a different energy; she communicates a range from earnest optimism to frantic paranoia. Brewer finds a subtle difference in her performance as imposter Lola that reads as hollow and false to an audience that has – in just a few scenes – tuned in to Alice’s on-screen persona.
It’s a delicate and detailed performance that settles so naturally that it’s easy to empathize with Alice while seeing the differences between the “real” and fake Lola.
As a character, Alice is someone we can easily support. She follows the logical steps; she takes precautions and she’s mindful of the possibilities for danger. It’s refreshing (and long overdue) to see an erotic entertainer character that doesn’t fall in to the naïve cliché habits we traditionally see from these roles in film.
Speaking of setting aside the clichés, Alice actually has a healthy relationship with her supportive and tight-knit family. We’ve been inundated with female characters that are ashamed of their sexuality (heaven forbid their parents find out), but Alice is more concerned about waiting until her rank has improved before she shares her accomplishments with her mother.
Cam plucks at the anxiety we feel about our follower count and how many likes we receive on a post, while grinding on a fear of the loss of control over our own life.
Alice has been working so hard to organically earn her place at the top of the list. When she’s locked out of her own life (and sole revenue stream), she can do nothing but obsessively watch as her rank changes, knowing that this fake version of her is achieving what she couldn’t.
And there’s a distinct, rattling horror there. Alice is stuck watching while this fake Lola crosses boundaries that she herself would not; she loses the ability to control her image and command her own sexuality.
Part identity thriller, part techno-mystery, Cam finds a clever way to prey on the layers of our online personas. It highlights the idea that what others see on our timeline is not necessarily an accurate representation of our lives. On top of that, it’s a poignant reflection on consent and privacy.
Cam challenges these online practices without demonizing them. It’s a gorgeous neon nightmare; a twisting, gripping thriller that will make you hesitate to log in and share.
Cam uploads to Netflix on November 16th. You can check out the trailer and poster below.