‘Cam’ a supernatural thriller that attempts to deconstruct identity in internet age
The direct-to-Netflix thriller “Cam” explores the world of internet private sex shows and the self-contracted models who perform them. Director Daniel Goldhaber and screenwriter Isa Mazzei use the ever-present cyber-porn industry as an allegory about obsession, misogyny and the how younger generations measure self-worth through generating clicks and other forms of online attention.
Alice (Madeline Brewer), a college-aged camgirl who goes by Lola online, is desperately trying to the rise in the ranks of the hosting platform on which she performs sex acts on camera for viewers who tip her through tokens they purchase through the site. Her goal is to break into the top 50 models, and to do so she begins taking her show to higher extremes by faking violent suicides using fake blood and other gory makeup effects. Some of her preferred customers have already started to make plans to meet her in person, and her shows have become increasingly more sadistic. But just as she reaches her initial goal, something unexplainable happens and Alice is locked out of profile, only to find another identical looking girl doing live-streams in her place and exposing her private life on cam.
Horror fans will recognize the visual and stylistic influence of the Italian erotic thrillers knows as the “giallo” sub-genre prevalent in the 1970s and ’80s, as well as man-as-an-extension-technology themes explored in David Cronenberg’s 1982 sci-fi thriller “Videodrome.” “Cam” isn’t nearly as subtle or as philosophically driven as “Videodrome” or as committed to its sleazy premise as the true giallo films, but it is broadly entertaining, as most Blumhouse productions tend to be, and somewhat thoughtful nonetheless. Brewer’s performance starts as naïve and bubbly and it takes a few scenes to establish a clear distinction between her true personality and her online persona, but once the plot kicks in and the mystery elements reveal themselves, the performance is more fully aware and realized. Other performances in the film oscillate between serviceable and unremarkable.
The horror in this film comes less from the violence and evisceration as it does from the idea of a loss of privacy in an age where our identities are split between several online communities. Doxing — the act of revealing a person’s address or personal information publicly — is utilized as the ultimate threat in this story. Most people, though they may not engage in online sex work, will have some point revealed more than they should have to strangers online, and when we begin to think about how fractured our identities have become, this paranoia becomes ripe for inspiration.
The supernatural element of the story is engaging as a genre exercise and certainly brings a fantastical dream element into the plot but movie-rules behind this premise are sometimes ill-defined and without clear boundaries. Lola is tormented by a magical doppelgänger, which is supposed to be a physical manifestation of her guilt and regret. Emotionally, this works well enough and the metaphor is mailable, but structurally the film suffers as the plot writes itself into a corner it can’t escape. The final resolution feels half-thought, undercooked, and wraps things up too easily.
“Cam” is more than a little hokey at times and it doesn’t really have the courage of its convictions when it comes to exploring the seedier elements of online sex work, but Goldhaber understand how to construct a scene and knows how to build atmosphere well enough to get you through the clunkier moments of the plot.
Cassidy Robinson is a former Idaho State University student with a master’s degree in film studies from Orange County’s Chapman University. He freelances for both print and online outlets.