One among many things that I’m really glad to see out of a film like Cam that I notice Hollywood rarely if ever was able to create, is a non-judgemental portrait of people who make a living through sex work. This Blumhouse production for Netflix, while still overcoming its own hiccups, feels so refreshing in that very sense because it also shows a new perspective to the audiences. In part this is the responsibility of screenwriter Isa Mazzei, who herself worked as a camgirl and allows a her experience to come onto the screen in some way here, but it’s also in part reflective of another horror that the sex industry imposes onto its own workers. Yet never does it ever sink down to the levels of bad judgement of such people, we’re made to see what life is like for these people for ourselves before we comment further. But that’s only one among many reasons as to why Cam is an admirable effort. It’s an admirable effort because it never feels judgemental of the people whose story is being told on the screen especially given the scrutiny that comes their way, and you feel something for their own struggle in the meantime too. You feel terrified for being that position, perhaps the best thing that Cam has going for it too.
Madeline Brewer stars as Alice, a camgirl who broadcasts non-nude shows live under the alias “Lola.” While we watch the way Alice’s life functions, we notice that it’s nothing much different from the way we live our own – but we already have the idea of how her own life as a camgirl works. She’s obsessed with her ranking, for her viewers tip “tokens” to see her continue to perform their desires on the screen, and even gets quite competitive with others on the site too. But after a few too many games she finds her online personality replaced with an exact replica of herself, which could only lead to her outside life being ruined for the worst. This isn’t exactly an unfamiliar concept when it comes to making cyber horror, but there’s also something far more genuine coming out of Cam that allows itself to stand so perfectly distinctive just for being what it is that’s going on. You can feel the damage that would come in Alice’s direction because people still remain so judgemental of what it is that she does for a living, but the film never punishes her for that. There’s an internalized horror coming from the way in which her identity is being used against her, and there’s a struggle being felt in the attempt to balance out Alice’s normal life with the personality she creates online in order to allow herself to survive in her own position.
Being told from the perspectives of those who know what working in this industry can be like to its own people, there comes one of the most refreshing aspects of Cam. It’s refreshing because you know whose experience this film is speaking for, therefore every moment in which the characters interact with one another through their normal life would only ever feel so genuine. From a viewer’s own eyes, you would also come to recognize what this position is exactly what would define “normal” for these people, and you’re also seeing that as being totally okay for them too. This isn’t a film that punishes anyone for spending their time online way too much but a film that recognizes it as being essential to the way in which they live, something that, in no better terms, helped me stay on board with what was set to come forward. Though the more we come closer to Alice in both lifestyles, therein arises the power that Cam has as a horror film too, because there’s another angle coming by that obviously would have no issue in punishing her for exactly this. You get in on the competitive nature of what it feels like to be a camgirl struggling to find ways to make your broadcasts even more erotic so that you can stay on top of everyone else, but you still feel within Alice’s own limits too regarding what it is that she can show on camera. But that’s where the perfect clone of one’s mannerisms can come about, and thus a frightening journey starts for her.
While there’s much to be admired about the setup that is presented in Cam, I’m a bit unsure as to how effective it really is as a horror movie. It’s not overtly scary either, though still rather effective especially in moments where we see Alice’s clone start to control her entire online identity. Because of this, you also find yourself feeling every bit as doomed as Alice is, because there’s only so much that an online identity can reveal about your life outside that screen, and Madeline Brewer’s performance is one that evokes that fear ever so perfectly. You don’t directly see the worst of the consequences that she could soon have potentially been facing at the very moment, you just have an entire chase towards the source of the fake Alice – all coming down to a final confrontation between the two. And everything feels so wonderfully built up too, which is where I knew on the spot this would easily have the potential to land itself perfectly like Blumhouse would at their strongest, but I’m not entirely sure that the climax delivered exactly what this whole film had built itself up to. It also feels like too drastic a shift in tone compared to everything else that came beforehand, only making the results seem disappointing, even when they really shouldn’t be given what happens so soon after. She knows about the dangers that could have come forward but still moves on with her life as she had in her own mind, though they all seem to come to a grinding halt.
Despite this, everything great about Cam would exhibit what Blumhouse productions are capable of at their very best. It feels so neatly refreshing in terms of its own views of the people it’s about, and even makes you feel for their struggle in a way that many other films about such people would not address in this manner. Though if there’s something else worth noting about what Cam can exhibit at its best, you also have the fantastic lead performance from Madeline Brewer expressing genuine fear from start to finish. But even on small budgets, Blumhouse films have always looked so visually appealing and to say the least, it’s more than enough reason for me to continue watching what they’re set on putting out every year too. Though I’m also looking forward to what Daniel Goldhaber and Isa Mazzei have in store next. For a first effort on both ends, the crafting behind Cam is also nothing short of impressive. But that’s where I think I’ll only feel as if I’m going to be repeating myself too, because Cam has so many wonderful things going on during its runtime, I only wish that it also could have been something better in hindsight too. But if more films in the future were to be made about what effects the internet can leave upon oneself too, I’d gladly take a film like this over the many judgemental films that feel more hell-bent on demonizing its most active users.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Netflix.
Directed by Daniel Goldhaber
Screenplay by Isa Mazzei
Produced by Isabelle Link-Levy, Adam Hendricks, John H. Lang, Greg Gilreath
Starring Madeline Brewer, Patch Darragh, Melora Walters, Devin Druid, Imani Hakim, Michael Dempsey
Release Date: November 16, 2018
Running Time: 94 minutes