Anonymity is king in many corners of the digital world. Alice (Madeline Brewer), her screen name Lola, finds herself creating her own wonderlands in the romantically lit shows she puts on for her loyal viewers. Things are going well as she starts to creep up into the top fifty viewed girls on the site when her identity is stolen by another girl who looks identical to her.
Cam is the right kind of mystery thriller, one that has a timely story that would have worked just as well ten years ago as it does today. It teases out the paranoia behind modern technology and uses suspense to emphasize the ever-blurring distinction between the the online and real worlds, throwing in many of the anxieties surrounding it at the same time. Much of what it has to say is left for us to decipher, right up to the very things that drive its main character to pursue this life over another, and it offers something to peruse over once the film comes to its satisfying close.
The film takes a patient approach to getting to its turning point and times it just right. The changes begin to happen soon after Alice plays a particularly distressing role in her latest stream in order to try and push her way back up the rankings after being sabotaged by a rival camgirl. All of a sudden, there are a few red herrings thrown into the mix. We of course have the rival, but we also might think for a while that Alice is experiencing some kind of psychological fallout from her latest video. The film holds its ace in its back pocket for some time.
All of Alice’s struggles are suitably suspenseful as she tries desperately to figure out just what she’s going through and who might be messing around with her. Through all of this she’s forced to deal with the real world consequences of her digital decisions. Unwanted attention and family troubles both tie directly into Alice’s choice to put herself on the screen for all to see, and while she has specific rules that she abides by when she puts on her facade, she only applies them to specific beliefs. She won’t fake an orgasm, but she will fake her own death.
Brewer is wonderful as Alice, capturing the seductive and yet in equal parts amateur innocence of the young woman and then nailing her gradual decline when things become strange. Alice’s most loyal viewers, Tinker (Patch Darragh) and Barney (Michael Dempsey) display the worst behaviour of both hungry consumer and obsessive aggressor. Director Daniel Goldhaber, with a script by Isa Mazei, finds time for all kinds of examples that point to troubling societal habits. Whether that be the nonchalant manner in which bystanders watch as a middle aged man half-carries a woman from the ladies’ bathroom and explains it away in a half-baked manner, or a couple of police officers shrugging off Alice’s distress and suggesting she “stay off the internet,” the film is very forward about some very real issues regarding our feelings towards both women and digital crime.
There’s something glamorous and artistic about the way in which “Lola” presents herself online, so the film doesn’t descend into voyeurism. There’s a cutthroat nature to the business itself similar to that of Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon, but it becomes secondary to the very tangible technological threat. The rare moments of brutality are bruising, and the tension always palpable. The score sears with the kind of pulse that lets you know that yes, you’re in a horror film and you should feel a certain way, but this doesn’t undermine or get in the way of a solid script and some crisp editing that add to the mind-bending direction of the story.
Perhaps nobody expected a film of this calibre, with its premise suggesting a film that might date quite quickly in an ever evolving world. However, its themes are universally relevant, and with a clever concept that demands that you go in blind, Cam is a thrilling addition to the Netflix library.
Film ’89 Verdict – 8/10
Cam is available now on Netflix (regional variances may apply).