★★.5 out of ★★★★★
It should come as no surprise, but technology’s bad. It’s, well, surprising how many times we as a collective horror-going audience are forced to learn this lesson, but it turns out that we (…and we’re looking at you society) never ever learn this lesson.
Also, it turns out that pornography, and in particular, women forced to go to technological lengths to pimp themselves out, is also bad. But again, this is a thing, and one-women camera (“cam”) shows continue to be lucrative and violently addictive. It’s unclear whether our nation’s addiction to the nasty is a lesson we need to be exposed to, per se, but it certainly makes for an interesting intersection between technology and the loneliness that it can bring.
Cam is a 2018 Blumhouse film directed by Daniel Goldhaber and features relative newcomer Madeline Kathryn Brewer as Alice, or alternatively her cam-girl name, Lola. It turns out that Lola is head-over-heels in love with the cam-girl game: the attention, adulation, the money, the money, and the money. Lola is revving up her cam-girl game and charging right up the cam-girl rankings. While the film is not entirely clear about how one goes about moving up the cam-girl charts, it’s certainly something that occupies a lot of Lola’s headspace and her worldview.
Written by Isa Mazzei, who apparently was a cam-girl herself, does a yeoman’s job of both creating the fantasy universe, but quickly juxtaposing against the mundane and banal struggles of life. Pointedly showing the audience that fantasy comes to a grinding halt when forced to deal with family, delivery people, video store clerks, and, well, life. Lola is hell-bent on cracking the top 50 of the free cam-girls website when, after a horrifying mock suicide, her entire profile is stolen. Password, passcode, login, her entire universe is gone. Lola continues in vein to call tech support, look to fellow cam-girls for assistance, but is unable to crack the code.
In a rather Black Mirror/Twightlight Zone gimmick, Lola is not only forced to deal with being locked out of her account, but she begins to see transmissions of herself, or her doppelgänger, on her very own site! Her clone (?) looks, sounds, and acts exactly like her. Lola, understandably frustrated with this topsy-turvy-twist, turns to less-than-receptive law enforcement officers, who take a slightly pervy approach to their inquiry by asking “…what’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever been asked to do?” Lola begins to suspect several of her regulars (Tinker and Barney) are somehow responsible for this cyber-mix-up. In different ways, she confronts both of these clearly skeezy individuals, but turns up little in sleuthing out her act-alike clone.
Lola’s clone continues her cam show with much aplomb, and in one of the weirdest twists, begins to broadcast from Lola/Alice’s house — in her bedroom! Lola, not her clone, appears to be both perturbed, terrified, and continually worried about her now lost cam-girl ranking. As her world totally unravels she trips over a bit of cyber-counterinsurgency and ingeniously turns the table on her clone. Director Daniel Goldhaber and writter Isa Mazzei take an enigmatic approach to the climax and really force the audience to gumshoe the ending together for themselves.
Is technology king? Is sex bad? Is sex just weird and misunderstood? Do prostitutes or their clients deserve love and understanding? Is Lola the ultimate manifestation of society’s grotesque and undying love for binary code and our hi-tech gordian knot that we’ve tied around our collective neck? The answer to all these questions is maybe and that’s partially the problem with Cam. Director Daniel Goldhaber and writter Isa Mazzei created an interesting device to explore these issues and proffer an answer, but chose not to. Worse yet, if they did, I didn’t catch it.
Cam isn’t rated (likely R) and available for streaming on Netflix.