It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a film that I’ve wanted to talk about and recommend to other people, and Isa Mazzei and Daniel Goldhaber’s Cam is one I haven’t forgotten about for the last few weeks since seeing it on Netflix. Its dark theme of stolen identity is brilliantly unsettling and resonant for our times, but told through the world of online sex workers, or “cam girls”, with a moody atmosphere similar to Black Mirror. With the added bonus of main actress Madeline Brewer, whose strong performance carries the entire film, sit back and enjoy this buzz worthy thriller that melds horror and science fiction in a unique, new way.
The plot revolves around Alice Ackerman (Brewer), a cam girl who goes by “Lola” on a popular cam girl site where she performs live, non-nude shows for (mostly) male audiences who gift her online tokens for her shows. Alice’s main objective as Lola is to achieve a spot among the top 50 girls on the site, and achieves her status through outrageous and elaborate fake suicides. Meanwhile, she’s trying fulfill her role as a daughter and sister to her family, the mother of which does not know about her cam girl work.
After she eventually makes it to the top 50, Alice goes to a studio where other cam girls from the same site do a joint show together. Soon afterwards, Alice begins to notice someone who looks and sounds exactly like her is performing as Lola, even though she’s not performing at that moment— although it’s clearly a live show as she responds to users responding to her. The fake Lola begins doing more nude, sexual shows and even reveals personal information about her family to her audience. Alice is logged out from the account, and her attempts to contact the site’s support team and the police are to no avail. It’s up to Alice to uncover the truth on her own, as her real life world starts to come apart.
The film was written and conceived by Mazzei, who’s own background as a cam girl served as inspiration. What I love most besides its Twilight Zone/Black Mirror-esque twist is how it puts sex workers in a positive light, although it posts its own questions about the quest for internet fame and voyeurism in a nonjudgemental way towards sex work itself. Brewer herself is incredible, there’s no doubt about that, and while there’s no real resolution towards understanding who or what is behind the fake Lola doesn’t make the film any less climactic to watch. We root for Alice/Lola all the way and sympathize with her dilemma as she’s dismissed and objectified by the police’s questioning (at one point, mid-call, upon hearing that she does camming, the policeman asks over the phone in a creepy tone, “What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever had to do as a cam girl?”). We celebrate her triumph at the end as well, and by the film’s end credits we’re left wondering about the strangeness of it all.
Cam is streaming online on Netflix, and there’s a great interview with Mazzei on the popular film podcast Switchblade Sisters to check out as well.
Aimee Murillo is calendar editor and frequently covers film and previously contributed to the OCW’s long-running fashion column, Trendzilla. Don’t ask her what her favorite movie is unless you want to hear her lengthy defense of Showgirls.