Though I’m not a webcam girl or involved in the online sex industry whatsoever, I held a great deal of empathy for what lead character Alice went through in Daniel Goldhaber’s feature film debut Cam. I think that whenever you post anything on the internet as a woman, be it a selfie, film review or blog post, you feel the tangible risk of harassment or threats much more than men. From a general assumption of your incompetence to unwarranted comments on your appearance and even creepy personal messages, I’m sure that a large majority of women who put themselves out there online have experienced one if not all of these scenarios. And whilst Cam focuses on a character for whom the attention of men is her livelihood, its Lynchian ideas come off as questioning, i not straightforwardly critical of the autonomy women seem to give up when they create online profiles and personas.
The premise of Cam is simple in theory, but extremely complex and slow burning in practice. Alice, the aforementioned cam girl, has a burgeoning career and a small legion of male fans that range from rather pathetic to genuinely unsettling. One day, she finds that she has been locked out of her account, and yet live videos of her continue to stream on her profile, apparently from a doppelganger who does things even Alice won’t dare to. Alongside this main story, we are also provided with details of Alice’s life both in and out of her career: her loving mother and brother, her old friends, and her work colleagues, as well as her living situation are all given time and attention. Ultimately though, they serve to generate an atmosphere of danger – she can’t escape the consequences by just turning off the computer.
With the vast majority of the movie hinging on her, Madeline Brewer delivers a career-best performance as both Alice and her online persona Lola, believable as both a down-to-Earth yet feisty object of desire on her profile and an unconfident, awkward young woman in real life. Of course, this is partially down to the fantastic screenplay by Isa Mazzei (herself once a cam girl), which keeps the outlandish premise and cheesy, porn-esque moments from becoming too over the top or unbelievable. Unfortunately, some of the supporting players leave a little to be desired – snarky cam girl Princess mostly comes off as a bitchy caricature. But regardless, 90% of the screen time is Alice by herself, and the film is better for it.
For a Netflix Original, this movie also has wonderful production design and cinematography. Borrowing a decent amount from The Neon Demon colour-wise, the dream-like, Twin Peaks Black Lodge like room in which she films is shot to be as appealing as the lead herself is to the men who voyeuristically watch her. This is a fantastic contrast to the scenes with her family and friends, which almost have a social-realist aesthetic, and effectively enhance the idea of Alice’s duality.
I won’t give too much more away as the film unfolds more interestingly when you don’t know what to expect, but bar some dodgy acting and a little unoriginality, Cam is definitely worth your watch, and will encourage you to reflect on both your own online experience, and the trials that women at large have to face on the web.