New Thriller Is Like Dark Mirror for Cam Ladies
In the new thriller Cam, which premieres simultaneously upon Netflix and in theaters upon Friday, pretty much everything that cam girl Alice (The Handmaid’ s Tale’ s Madeline Brewer) fears might happen does. What surprises, although, is the specificity of her fears. Alice is afraid, of course , that her mom, younger brother live cam sex, and the rest of their small town in New Mexico will discover her night job. And she’ s probably not alone in her worries that a buyer or two will breach the substantial but understandably not perfect wall that she has constructed between her professional and private lives. But most of her days are spent worrying about the details of her work: Does her react push enough boundaries? Which patrons should she develop relationships with— and at which in turn others’ expense? Can the lady ever be online enough to crack her site’ s Top 50?
Alice is a sex worker, with all the attendant dangers and occasional humiliations— which moody, neon-lit film never shies away from that reality. But Alice is also an artist. In front of the camera, she’ s a convincing actress and improviser as the sweet but fanciful “ Lola. ” Behind it, she’ s a writer, a home, and a set custom made. (Decorated with oversize blossoms and teddy bears, the free bedroom that she uses as her set appears to be themed Barbie After Hours. ) So when the unimaginable happens— Alice’ s account is definitely hacked, and a doppelgä nger starts performing her act, with less creativity but more popularity— her indignation is ours, also.
The film finds stakes— and a resolution— whose freshness is hard to understate.
But Cam takes its time getting to that mystery. That’ s more than fine, since the film, written by previous webcam model Isa Mazzei and first-time director Daniel Goldhaber, immerses us in the dual economies of making love work and online interest. The slow reveal with the day-to-day realities of cam-girling is the movie’ s genuine striptease— all of it surrounded by an aura of authenticity. (Small-bladdered Alice, for example , constantly apologizes to her clients for the frequency of her bath room visits. ) And though Alice denies that her selected career has anything to perform with a personal sense of female empowerment, the film assumes an unspoken although unmissable feminist consideration of sex work. The disjunct between Alice’ s appearing regularness and Lola’ s over-the-top performances— sometimes concerning blood capsules— is the tip of the iceberg. More exciting is the sense of security and control that webcam-modeling allows— and how illusory that can become when natural male entitlement gets unleashed out of social niceties.
If the first half of Camera is pleasantly episodic and purringly tense, the latter half— in which Alice searches for her hacker— is clever, resourceful, and wonderfully evocative. A type of Black Mirror for camera girls, its frights happen to be limited to this tiny cut of the web, but no less resonant for that. We see Alice strive to maintain a certain regular of creative rawness, even as she’ s pressured by machine in front of her for being something of an automaton very little. And versions of the scene where a desperate Alice message or calls the cops for assistance with the hack, only to be faced with confusion about the internet and suspicion about her job, have doubtlessly played out out countless times in past times two decades. At the intersection of your industry that didn’ t exist a decade ago and an ageless trade that’ h seldom portrayed candidly in popular culture, the film finds stakes— and a resolution— whose freshness is difficult to understate.
The wonderfully versatile Machine, who’ s in just about any scene, pulls off essentially three “ characters”: Alice, Alice as Lola, and Bizarro Lola. It’ s i9000 a bravura performance that flits between several facts while keeping the film grounded as the plot changes make narrative leap after narrative leap. Cam’ ersus villain perhaps represents considerably more an admirable provocation than a satisfying answer. But with such naked ambition on display, who also could turn away