Released Nov. 16, 2018
Unrated (equal to rated R for strong sexual content, nudity, violence, thematic elements, and language) – 1hr 34min
Directed by Daniel Goldhaber
Starring Madeline Brewer, Patch Darragh, Melora Walters
Alice (Brewer) is a successful camgirl – an erotic performer who interacts with a live audience during her shows via the internet in exchange for tips. As she ascends the ‘Top Girls’ chart, her rivalry with other performers heats up until she discovers that a doppelgänger imposter has hijacked her identity, locked her out of her account, and has stolen her show. She must unravel the mystery of her malevolent double before the fraudulent lookalike unravels her life.
It would tempting to write off Cam as a sexy episode of Black Mirror, but despite the plot, it doesn’t necessarily seem to be an indictment of technology. Instead, it appears to employ paranormal elements to craft a dramatic allegory about the life of a camgirl – exploring the high highs and low lows of pursuing an occupation that is both risky and risqué. Let’s be clear though – if the genre wasn’t so commercially hot right now, this would never have been considered a horror movie, but instead an erotic thriller or mystery.
I personally am not the least bit upset at this current trend that is gradually expanding the definition of horror to include more of all things dark or complicated in nature. The genre has always possessed the capacity to explore themes and subjects that are often considered subversive or uncomfortable because, if you’re actively approaching horror, you’re already consenting to a challenge. It’s been said often as of late that, as a society, ‘we need to have the difficult conversations’. Well, horror has flung open its front door and announced ‘Come on in, everyone! Hope you don’t mind the mess – you know how hard it is to scrub gore out of the carpet.’ So really, it’s quite the effective medium for a sex worker to tell her complex story.
Cam is co-created and written by former camgirl Isa Mazzei, so it can be reasoned that the film is just as much an examination at the precarious and dualistic life of an erotic performer as it is any kind of supernatural narrative. In the movie, Alice, who goes by the alias of Lola for her online persona, seems to legitimately love her work. Serving the roles of entertainer, masturbatory aid, and virtual companion for an untold number of lonely men, she revels in the thrill, attention, and satisfaction (and, of course, income) that her pseudo-therapeutic profession provides.
However, it’s not all wine and roses, literally or otherwise. Alice is actively courted by deep-pocketed fans for her private time, who she feels obliged to humor for the sake of preserving notoriety and revenue. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that some are not content with keeping the ‘relationship’ contained merely to FaceTime. There are increasingly bitter rivalries with other camgirls, all competing for the same pool of customers, who are placing pressure upon her to consider more explicit performances than she would care for. She also must juggle a contradictory existence that demands both a high profile and discreet privacy, lest her real identity become public knowledge and she is stigmatized as a porn star.
This delicate balancing act of two disparate personas is completely upended by the sudden disruptive appearance of her mysterious twin, and therein lies the horror. The bizarro Lola appears to revel in doing all the reckless and salacious things that Alice does not, and in the process, obliterating all the careful mechanisms that she has developed to keep her two lives apart.
This might be a lengthy dissection of the story, but Cam packs a lot of narrative into its 94-minute runtime. It has an almost documentarian level of depth to its presentation without ever resembling a documentary, and that is attributable to the sharp semi-autobiographical script penned by Mazzei, which is brought to vivid life by first-time director Daniel Goldhaber. Nothing is wasted in either moving the plot forward or building the character of Alice, portrayed by Madeline Brewer in what is easily one of the best genre performances of the year. The film does not succeed unless its protagonist is a compelling and believable human being, and Brewer absolutely owns it in a star-making role.
Cam is a thought-provoking and timely examination of the perilous world of modern self-made pornography and society’s hypocritical relationship with the women who produce it. It’s okay to love them in secret, but in public, it is acceptable for them to be dehumanized and encouraged for them to be scorned. It’s a fable with a message that I honestly hadn’t given much thought to beforehand, and that’s a whole lot to take away from a 90-minute movie.
Cam gets a rating of