By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Madeline Brewer, Patch Darragh and Melora Walters
Directed by Daniel Goldhaber
Written by Isa Mazzei
Each new pornography delivery system or showcase gets its own horror/thriller film, but rarely are they as successfully unnerving while eschewing easy exploitation as CAM. The titillation remains between the people on screen, as the thrills the movie seeks to elicit from the audience are of a deeper, personal variety.
A world premiere at Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival, and snapped up by Netflix within days of its first screening, CAM was scripted by Isa Mazzei and inspired by her own experiences as a “cam girl.” Only someone who’s been there could likely tell this story with the sympathy and perception she brings to the travails of Alice (Madeline Brewer), who appears under the screen name Lola at FreeGirlsLive.com. Having transformed a room in her house into a pink fantasy boudoir, Alice does live on-line shows for loyal fans who reward her with cybertokens and encourage her to perform specific acts via comments that pop up on her giant-screen TV. She has set certain limitations for herself, such as never telling her fans she loves them and no fake orgasms, though an early scene demonstrates that she is willing to inflict horrific faux violence upon herself for the sake of moving up the FGL.com rankings.
Brewer is magnetic as Alice, who fully commits to her role as an Internet seductress while maintaining a strict separation between this job and her personal life. Mazzei offers fascinating insights and details of what is, in fact, a business though it’s predicated on giving others pleasure, and first-time feature director Daniel Goldhaber (who collaborated on the movie’s story with Mazzei and producer Isabelle Link-Levy) teams with cinematographer Katelin Arizmendi to present them with an appropriately colorful, snazzy and alluring style. Within the first half hour, we’re fully drawn into Alice’s double life, which becomes threatened on both sides when one-half of it becomes stolen.
It starts with Alice being blocked from logging onto her account. Both on-line and on-the-phone tech support, of course, are no help, and when she sets up a new account and goes back to the site, she sees that there’s another Lola webcamming in her place—one who looks and sounds exactly like her, in an identical room, and behaving in a much less inhibited manner. At first, Alice believes this “replacement” is the work of an FGL.com rival (THE LOVE WITCH’s Samantha Robinson) who has just manipulated their followers into downvoting Lola out of the top 50. Then she realizes that something more mysterious and insidious is at work, and has to figure out how to defeat this doppelganger.
What gives CAM part of its intriguing kick is that it’s not Alice’s actual identity that has been stolen, but a fake one, and the movie uses the adult-entertainment milieu as a hook to lure us into an examination of just how much we invest in the personas we show the world on-line. At the same time, it employs the specifics of Alice’s trade to gaze back at the male gaze. In the course of her investigation, she’s forced to engage face-to-face with a couple of her most enthusiastic male followers, who unsurprisingly have trouble engaging with her as a real person with feelings—yet these encounters aren’t quite as creepy as the reaction of a couple of cops she calls to help with her plight. Finally, CAM is a gripping and consistently visually engaging thriller that delves deep into provocative subject matter to play on emotions that any viewer can relate to.