[This is a repost of our review from the 2018 Fantasia International Film Festival. Cam arrives on Netflix tomorrow.]
Are you who you say you are online? The line between reality and internet persona has been well-examined on-screen in recent years with titles like Ingrid Goes West and the haunting Black Mirror episode ‘Nosedive’, but the new horror-thriller Cam puts a unique spin on the topic by filtering it through the lens of sex work. After all, online persona takes on a whole new meaning when you also set out to intentionally obscure your real-life identity through a veil of privacy.
Cam follows The Handmaid’s Tale standout Madeline Brewer as Alice, a successful but not top-ranked cam girl (a woman who engages in sexual performance via webcam for tips), who makes it a point to draw a clear line in the sand between herself and her online alter-ego. How does she keep the line drawn? Besides smart privacy practices, she keeps a personal code. “I don’t do public shows, I don’t tell my guys I love them and I don’t fake my orgasms,” she explains between logging online as her alter-ego Lola.
But her and her persona share an eager ambition and Alice is hungry to crack the Top 50 ranking, devising singular (if a bit disturbed shows) to climb the ranks among the intense competition. One night she turns on her cam, and with the help one of her regulars, she stages a suicide show, slitting her own throat and letting the blood flow. Her head hangs for a moment, but then she looks up at the camera with a coquettish grin and the power dynamic shifts — Alice was never a pleading victim, she was always in control — an interesting spin on the complicated sexual dynamics in the camming industry.
Like a sub in a BDSM relationship, she’s the one who decides how much and when, and in the same way, it’s the girls on the other end of the camera who decide what they’re comfortable with, not the men slinging money and demands. Through these little details of character and circumstance, Cam consistently delivers sharp and engaging (not to mention sex-positive) view on sexuality and sex work, offering a refreshing look inside an under-explored and often ill-represented facet of online society.
Things take a turn for the surreal one day when Alice attempts to sign on, only to discover she’s locked out and someone else is using her profile. What’s worse, the girl looks and acts just like her, knows details she shouldn’t possibly know, and has no intention of keeping those secrets to herself. And somehow, she’s on live. Alice creates an anonymous account and asks her a question, the new Lola responds instantly and Alice recoils in horror, a look of dawning confusion and dread spreading across her face. There is a duplicate of her, a dopplegänger — a creation of her own making that has spiraled out of her control. From there, Cam dives down a rabbit hole of anxiety and confused identity as she tries to get back her grip on her life while investigating who or what could be taking her place online.