I like to think I keep my finger on the pulse of what “the kids” are watching these days, though it’s hard to sift through all the junk that hits streaming services virtually every day to single out what’s actually worth watching. Most recently, I’ve seen countless social media posts about Cam, which included Stephen King praising the film. That’s right, Stephen King! The same Stephen King who had good things to say about the adaptation of The Dark Tower! King’s opinion aside, enough additional posts about the film have come my way, inspiring me to check it out as soon as I could. While I can understand why other people might have been so excited, and I appreciated certain elements of the film, Cam ends up being Not For Me™, as it ultimately squandered the potential it was building in the stolen identity thriller.
Under the screen name “Lola,” Alice (Madeline Brewer) sets her sights on cracking the top 50 girls on a cam girl website, exploiting her users in all possible ways, from charging money to watch her eat a pie to shocking viewers with a fake suicide. As she makes progress towards the milestone, some of her suitors start invading her personal life in unexpected ways, which is made all the more frightening when she’s locked out of her own account. As she tries to gain access to the Lola persona, a doppelganger has taken over her broadcasts, launching Alice’s investigation into who has stolen her identity and is exploiting her image.
While Cam is no doubt a horror film, it’s the (what I assume are) true to life elements of being a cam girl that I found most effective, both in mundane and unsettling ways. Alice knows that the only way she can gain popularity is by giving her fans what they want, which includes building personal relationships with them that they might even believe to be exclusive. After she inadvertently bumps into a fan in a grocery store, I was excited that the film might take a stalker route, only for the narrative to head a different direction. The ways in which the film handled the stigmas around sex work were also handled (what I assume is) realistically, which is obviously frustrating bullshit. When Alice seeks help for her situation, police officers blow her off and essentially blame the victim, which is likely the case with not just specifically sex workers, but countless women looking for help from authorities in a variety of situations.
All of these components being the film’s strengths make sense, as co-writer Isa Mazzei is a former cam girl and claims she incorporated elements from her personal life into the film. In fact, she has previously revealed that she intended to make a documentary about the subject before opting to turn those ideas into this thriller, which is unfortunate, given the path the film began to explore.
I love doppelganger movies and I can’t really explain why, so when the film deviated from the stalker territory and began exploring this route, you’d think I’d get more excited. Guess what? I didn’t! I know if I were to see my exact double pretending to be me while I’m in a room with people who can vouch that it’s not me on the computer, I feel like they would freak the fuck out. I mean, that’s crazy! Can you imagine that?! However, possibly because of the lack of security of everything a cam girl might do online potentially steals their agency from them, the characters in the film reacted to the situations with a relatively blasé attitude, which resulted in me having a blasé reaction. Their reactions could have also been somewhat lackluster because, both in real life and in the film, the cam girls accept that by engaging in such a career, you leave yourself vulnerable to having your privacy invaded in ways other people might not ever think of, which is an idea that potentially could have been far more effective to explore had it been a documentary rather than in thriller.
Brewer’s performance helps sells what feels like an updated B-movie that’s given a contemporary spin, as a less compelling performer would have likely highlighted some of the film’s shortcomings. While I can completely understand why other viewers might connect strongly with the film and see themselves reflected in the narrative in a number of different ways, Cam mostly felt like a standard thriller that managed to offer audiences a slightly different setting for the events that play out, despite being predictable and failing to stick the landing.
Wolfman Moon Scale