Cam [Fantasia 2018 Review]

Cam is like a really taut episode of The Twilight Zone set against the backdrop of sex work. From the opening scene, it grabs you and doesn’t let go for an hour-and-a-half. The movie, which had its world premiere at Fantasia 2018, pulls you into the world of “cam girls” — women who host sexually-explicit online shows, and often get on slightly personal terms with their fans. Graphic, but never offensively so, it delves into the psyche of one such cam girl as her world starts to fall apart.  

Madeline Brewer gives a brave, ferocious performance as Alice. She has a loyal viewership in her guise as “Lola,” but is obsessed with breaking into her web host’s top 50. That entails using extreme tactics like implications of self-harm in addition to the usual sexual teases. Alice wants to tell her mother (Melora Walters) about her profession, yet figures it’s better to wait until she’s reached the appropriate level of success first.

Trouble strikes when Alice gets locked out of her account. Worse, someone else is broadcasting on it. Someone who looks and sounds exactly like her. How is this possible? Her effort to find out puts her in contact with two creepy regular viewers, and in pursuit of the #1 cam girl around. What she discovers is shocking.

The questions of how Alice’s account gets hacked and who does it are only answered very generally. That’s perfectly okay, because Cam isn’t so much about what happens as it is about Alice’s reaction it. Despite some horror overtones, this is ultimately a story of control. On her shows, Alice has it. She decides what she’s comfortable doing, how to present herself, and in what ways she wants to interact with her viewers. Using sex appeal as leverage, she calls all the shots. Once her account is hijacked and the other Lola takes over, she no longer has that control, which threatens to derail her dream of rising in the ranks. This realization leads to taking greater risks to get that control back.

Cam was written by Isa Mazzei, a former cam girl herself. That makes a huge difference, as the movie is filled with authentic details that add exponentially to the effect. Even if you’d never watch one of these broadcasts, the way Cam delves into the behind-the-scenes preparations, the relationship-building with viewers, the technical complications, and the rivalries between hosts is captivating. Director Daniel Goldhaber paces the film like a rocket, zipping back-and-forth between Alice’s real world and her online existence, showing how the two have become intertwined.

At the center of it all is Madeline Brewer (The Handmaid’s Tale). She palpably captures Alice’s single-mindedness in wanting to be a top cam girl. Although tough and determined on the outside, Brewer also suggests an inner vulnerability, as though Alice doesn’t see much potential in herself other than that which her hotness provides, so she willingly capitalizes on it. This role deserves to make the actress a star.

Cam is destined to be compared to the work of David Lynch, particularly Mulholland Dr., with its nightmarish, surreal quality and duel identity plot. Truthfully, though, the movie is more accessible than Lynch’s (admittedly great) output. There’s also a freshness to the treatment of the subject matter that makes it unique.

All the way around, Cam is a bold, electrifying thriller.

Mike McGranaghan

For more information on Fantasia 2018, please visit the official website.