New Thriller Is Like Black Mirror for Cam Girls
In the new thriller Cam, which premieres simultaneously in Netflix and in theaters about Friday, pretty much everything that camera girl Alice (The Handmaid’ s Tale’ s Madeline Brewer) fears might happen does. What surprises, nevertheless, is the specificity of her fears. Alice is worried, of course , that her mother, younger brother, 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 customer or two will breach the substantial but understandably not perfect wall that she has built between her professional and personal lives. But most of her days are spent worrying about the details of her work: Does her work push enough boundaries? Which in turn patrons should she grow relationships with— and at which usually others’ expense? Can the lady ever be online enough to crack her site’ s Top 50?
Alice is a love-making worker, with all the attendant risks and occasional humiliations— which moody, neon-lit film hardly ever shies away from that fact. But Alice is also a great artist. In front of the camera, she’ s a convincing celebrity and improviser as the sweet but fanciful “ Lola. ” Behind it, she’ s a writer, a home, and a set custom. (Decorated with oversize blooms and teddy bears, the spare bedroom that she uses as her set appears to be themed Barbie After Hours. ) So when the unimaginable happens— Alice’ s account can be hacked, and a doppelgä nger starts performing her act, with less originality but more popularity— her indignation is ours, also.
The film finds stakes— and a resolution— whose freshness is not easy to understate.
But Cam takes its period getting to that mystery. That’ s more than fine, as the film, written by previous webcam model Isa Mazzei and first-time director Daniel Goldhaber, immerses us inside the dual economies of love-making work and online attention. The slow reveal with the day-to-day realities of cam-girling is the movie’ s serious 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 chosen career has anything to do with a personal sense of female empowerment, the film assumes an unspoken yet unmissable feminist consideration of sex work. The disjunct between Alice’ s appearing regularness and Lola’ s over-the-top performances— sometimes affecting blood capsules— is the idea of the iceberg. More exciting is the sense of basic safety and control that webcam-modeling allows— and how illusory that can become when male entitlement gets unleashed coming from social niceties.
If the first half of Cam is pleasantly episodic and purringly tense, the latter half— in which Alice searches for her hacker— is clever, imaginative, and wonderfully evocative. A kind of Black Mirror for camera girls, its frights will be limited to this hairy cam tiny piece of the web, but believe it or not resonant for that. We see Alice strive to maintain a certain regular of creative rawness, even as she’ s pressured by the machine in front of her to be something of an automaton little. And versions of the landscape where a desperate Alice message or calls the cops for help with the hack, only to become faced with confusion about the internet and suspicion about her job, have doubtlessly played out countless times in the past two decades. At the intersection of your industry that didn’ big t exist a decade ago and an ageless trade that’ t seldom portrayed candidly in popular culture, the film finds stakes— and a resolution— whose freshness is not easy to understate.
The wonderfully versatile Coffee maker, who’ s in just about any scene, pulls off essentially three “ characters”: Alice, Alice as Lola, and Bizarro Lola. It’ t a bravura performance that flits between several facts while keeping the film grounded as the plot changes make narrative leap following narrative leap. Cam’ t villain perhaps represents extra an admirable provocation than a satisfying answer. But with such naked ambition on display, exactly who could turn away