Who's Watching You?
On the surface, Isa Mazzei's "Cam" appears to be just another morality tale, but the longer it goes on, the more it seems to take on: from normalizing the stigma of sex workers to a caution about the potential limitlessness of the internet and the interconnected world.
The film follows Lola, or Alice (Madeline Brewer, The Handmaid's Tale), a camgirl (i.e., online sex worker) who is intent on seeing her ranking within her site rise. She wakes one morning to find that she has been locked out of her performance account and seemingly replaced by an exact lookalike. The lack of access to her account prevents her from earning a living, and it also it takes on a more personal note when her doppelganger starts to push the envelope in her performances and begins to engage people in Alice's real world. After tech support and the police can't help her, Alice sets out to find out who has replaced her and reclaim the digital territory that she has worked hard to create for herself.
The story in "Cam" is strung together in such a way that the viewer is left on edge from the moment they are introduced to the other Lola, to the very end. Everything seems as though it is straightforward and simplistic, but the more that Lola pulls the threads, the less sure we are.
While this film is definitely creepy and a must watch for anyone who enjoys a psychological thriller, one warning is that the tremendous build up leads to a slight letdown of an ending. Resolution is gained for Alice's story in particular, but the how and why are never solved and instead are given over to the amorphous world of social media and the internet. This could lead to an interesting discussion on the safety, morality, and capabilities of an ever-more connected world, but it also has the effect of leaving the viewer with a slight unfulfilled feeling.
As enjoyably macabre as the overall story is, it is Brewer's adept portrayal of Lola/Alice that really makes the film. Anyone who has worked within the hospitality industry is familiar with the experience of having a second face, and the difference between Brewer's onscreen Lola and offscreen Alice is that taken to the extreme. Couple that with small moments, such as when Alice slowly starts to lose it on air but keeps a tissue-thin veneer of happiness up for her remaining viewers until she can get off line, and you get a great performance. Patch Darragh ("Sully") as Tinker, Lola's number one fan who crosses the line into stalker, is also worth a special mention.
Story aside, "Cam" takes strides in the way it portrays Alice and her sex work, which is to say it is shown as just her profession. It is something she does when it is time to work, and when she works she wants to be the best at it; and when she isn't working, it doesn't dominate who she is. If anything, it is how people change and react to her when they learn what she does that is shown in a negative manner, which is an interesting viewpoint for a not oft-talked about world.
The ending aside, "Cam" is one of the most haunting films I have seen in a while and an overall success.