[THS Review] Cam

I’ll admit it. Every day, as I leave work, I check the stats on this website. I see what articles people have read. How much. How many hits. From social media or direct. What about RSS feeds. Oh cool, the numbers are up and in the green today. Oh shit, they’re down and red. Sometimes, I get discouraged and disappointed. Other times, I’m able to take a step back and look at myself. What am I doing this for? To catalogue my writing? Because I enjoy it? Or am I doing it for a more contrived and competitive reason?

Am I doing it for the views?

At the beginning of Cam, Alice (Madeline Brewer) is an established cam girl on a popular live streaming site. She goes by Lola and has accrued a stable of men who watch every night she’s on and tip her for her performance. Or to have her do specific things, like eat a steak with her hands on date night. Alice does a lot of research. She has everything planned out. What nights she did what themes. Which people tip the most. She’s on the edge of the Top 50, on a site of thousands. She’s so close to being cam famous that she’s willing to do anything, including staging a fake on-camera suicide. It’s a pretty grim, imagining the men on the other side of the computer paying her tokens to, and to not, slit her throat.

Alice lives comfortably, but it’s not enough. She wants to break that Top 50. She bemoans other camgirls who are higher than her and don’t put in as much effort as she does. And so she and one of her cam friends stage a live duo performance that involves a vibrating machine that could actually wound her. She breaks the Top 50! And the next morning, she tried to log into her account and can’t. Weirdly enough, though, she appears to still be streaming. Not only has she been locked out, but she has seemingly been replaced by a doppelganger.

Throughout Cam, we’re introduced to three different versions of Alice. There’s her normal, every day life, where she chats openly with her fellow camgirl friends and those who know the kind of work she does. There’s the guarded Alice in front of her family, where she feels self-conscious about how she makes her money and is evasive about her dating life. And then there’s Lola. The avatar. The life she lives, as seen through the people watching her shows. Every single group of individuals has an idea of who Alice is, though none of them see the full picture.

It’s reminiscent of how we interact with strangers online. We each cultivate a way we’re seen, based on the audience. Somewhere between the way we act online, with friends and with family, there’s a full person; and what happens if a third of you, in this case, the third that provides your livelihood vanishes in some Lynchian nightmare?

Cam also digs into the unsettling truth that we are all replaceable. Sure, there’s a vaguely supernatural bent to this movie, but at the heart of it is the certain assertion that no matter how many professional milestones we complete or how far we go, we’re just one click away from being yesterday’s news. From being deleted. It’s a fear anyone who makes their money online faces, probably on a daily basis. In Cam, Alice’s likeness is stolen from her. Her online persona is still performing, still entertaining her clients. Someone is making money off her name, likeness and cultured audience and there is nothing she can do to stop it.

Madeline Brewer imbues her character with pathos and completely sells the story, written by Isa Mazzei, who brings her own experiences as a Cam girl to the table. It’s a very sex positive story that never looks down on the characters. In fact, I found the inner workings of the trade fascinating. I’m sure any YouTuber would get chills watching the nightmare situation Alice is faced with.

But at the heart of it is Brewer, who gives a virtuoso performance as she not only deals with the online threat, but also her friends and family. It’s at times tender, but also fueled by an obsessive nature that I think anyone in the field of cultivating a following or niche in the world will understand. She feels both manipulative and sincere and her performance needs to be celebrated. I never would have thought she had this range based on her limited role in Orange is the New Black.

This was in the top five of my films for the Telluride Horror Show. I’m happy to say it’s hitting Netflix on November 16th and I would definitely recommend checking it out. Now, if you don’t mind, these stats aren’t going to refresh themselves.