Cam is a slyly great piece of psychological horror, Hitchcock rendered in hot neon pink and updated for the digital age. Screenwriter Isa Mazzei worked as a cam girl, and her sense of unsentimental expertise informs the picture, creating a world of bright lights and dangerous shadows but also a world in which sex work is obviously and undoubtedly work. Alice (Madeline Brewer) live-streams her videos on Free Girls Live, going by the name Lola and maintaining a bubbly, saucy persona. Lola’s money is a result of tips from FGL users; the more tips she rakes in and the more overall viewers she attracts, the higher her site rating bounces… which helps her attract tippers and viewers. As the film starts, she’s hovering just below the top fifty, and she’s eager to climb up in the ranks. Hard work, impressively freaky on-camera stunts, and private shows for a big tipper might help her make it–but her rising status has made her more vulnerable than ever, attracting vicious competitors and unsettling encounters with her fans.
Alice states early on that she has three major rules, implicitly designed to protect her safety and her sense of personal integrity. She won’t do public shows, she won’t fake her orgasms, and she won’t tell “her guys” that she loves them. Within the bounds of a business that is all performance, she’s honest and sincere.
And just as escalating pressure seems to be pushing her to potentially break some of her rules, her identity slips away from her in a way she never could have predicted. Suddenly, the connection between Alice and Lola has been severed, leaving Alice frantically trying to recapture a persona–and a livelihood–that has escaped her control.
Mazei and director Daniel Goldhaber do terrific work here, crafting an unusual thriller that stays compelling despite its handful of loose ends. But the ultimate standout is Brewer, who captures the attention with an unnerving, unsteady intensity, moving seamlessly from Lola’s offbeat, almost burlesque showmanship to Alice’s drive and increasing terror. Feminist suspense and horror is full of unsettling doubles and rivalries, and with Cam, this mini-genre gets one more top-notch entry.
Cam is available on Netflix.