Fantasia Fest: 'Cam' Review

Directed by Daniel Goldhaber

Starring Madeline Brewer, Patch Darragh, Melora Walters, Devin Druid

BY Laura Di GirolamoPublished Jul 24, 2018

An engaging psychological thriller where the dangers are both paranormal and real, Cam takes a premise that could have been trite and exploitative — "cam girl" is stalked by an unknown force that wants her dead — and makes it tense, sex-positive, relatable and pretty damn scary.
Bubbly and vivacious cam girl Lola (Madeline Brewer) is loyally dedicated to her fan base, for whom she strips, teases and masturbates on her webcam in exchange for tips. She's determined to get her ratings up and employs a number of creative concepts in order to make sure her show is fresh and interesting — including pretending to kill herself on live camera. But when the camera's off, she's just Alice, a normal twentysomething whose mother (Melora Walters) has no idea what her daughter actually does for a living.
After dodging the advances of a "nice guy" fan and participating in a sex show that's way more hardcore than her usual antics, Alice discovers what appears to be a doppelganger of herself, appearing live on her own account. As she attempts to get someone, anyone, to believe her claims, the doppelganger's cutesy performances start to get darker — and more violent.
Drawing from screenwriter Isa Mazzei's own experience as a cam girl, Alice's job is never presented as sordid or demeaning. She's actually downright good at it, and puts a ton of work into her themes, costumes and personas. Cam even depicts the more mundane realities of sex work, like deciding what kind of takeout to order while masturbating on a live show. It's Alice's fans who are the sketchy ones; they're either threatening misogynists or pathetic loners who think Alice needs a white knight to protect her. But Alice can protect herself, doggedly pursuing the solution to this mystery even as it goes from creepy to terrifying, and her personal and professional lives become dangerously intertwined.
Cam is really a story about what happens when our online personas threaten to consume our entire lives, and when the boundaries between what's a performance and what's real start to blur. The guys on Lola's channel are harmless online, but when she meets two in real life, they're emblematic of the types of men who believe they are owed a woman's sexual favours. And as Alice herself tries to up the ante when it comes to the activities she's willing to do on camera in exchange for internet fame, she's powerless to watch as her digital doppelganger takes it up a notch even further.
There's more than a few Alice in Wonderland references in Cam, not least of which is her name, and the audience tumbles down the rabbit hole with her as it all builds to a harrowing climax. It's beautifully shot, making great use of vivid neon pinks and blues in the cam scenes and muddier colours when Alice is off camera, separating "Alice" from "Lola" visually, even as the audience understands that Alice is having difficulty drawing that line herself.
Cam is anchored by a fantastic performance from Madeline Brewer, who spends much of the film alternating between dual roles and alternate personalities, playing a cam girl vixen and the "Final Girl" with equal commitment. Her desire to be seen and acknowledged online, even as her doppelganger threatens her very life, is visceral and real. Who doesn't want to be noticed? And in the age of social media, is her story really that extreme, or have we all accepted the idea of abandoning our private lives in favour of a digital one?
(Blumhouse Productions)

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