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‘Cam’ explores the camgirl industry in interesting thriller | The Triangle

‘Cam’ explores the camgirl industry in interesting thriller

We live our lives online now, it’s just a fact of the times. In some ways, our online lives are more important than our actual ones; how often have you balked at giving out your email while entering your home address without a second thought? Despite this, there’s still a tendency for older people to think of online life as unimportant and silly; harassment victims are still told to log off, despite many of them requiring the internet to make a living and interact with friends. But what if someone attempted to steal your online identity? Where does that leave you now? “Cam,” a new technothriller debuting on Netflix, examines that question and all the unsettling implications it brings in one of the smartest, most impressive horror movies in recent memory.

Madeline Brewer stars as Alice, a camgirl performing under the name “Lola.” Her dream is to be one of the top 10 most popular cammers, and her method is staging violent fantasies among the usual coy, playful sex shows. She seems to be earning a pretty hefty takeaway from the job, as shown by the house she’s moving into, and she genuinely enjoys her job. All this starts to crumble when she’s locked out of her account and discovers that someone who looks exactly like her is streaming live. What follows turns tense and fascinating, as Alice attempts to regain control of her online life against an otherworldly presence that seems to know everything about her.

The easiest thing would be to compare “Cam” to an episode of “Black Mirror,” seeing as it’s a horror story about technology, and Madeline Brewer even starred in season three’s “Men Against Fire.” But “Cam” is far less cynical about the effects of technology in Alice’s life. In fact, Isa Mazzei’s script makes Alice unusually smart, and never cheapens itself by resorting to cheap horror cliches or inexplicable character behavior. One scene in particular echoes common sentiments told to online harassment victims and how law enforcement is entirely unequipped to deal with it. Mazzei’s history as a camgirl herself is the strongest asset to the film. She paints camming as a performance in and of itself. Alice forms parasocial relationships with the various men who like to watch her play a ditzy sex doll character. From a Q&A that director Daniel Goldhaber gave at the Philadelphia Film Festival premiere, it sounds like Mazzei was pivotal in many of the nude scenes as well, which never feel exploitative. Though her script does fumble a bit at the end, it’s remarkably self-assured for a first-time writer.

Brewer has been a welcome presence on shows like “Orange is The New Black” and “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and she dives into this role with an intensity that should make her a breakout star. She imbues the doppelganger Lola with an uncanny sense of humanity, that feels off because you know it shouldn’t exist. In another scene, she simmers in anger that grows more and more intense as she takes it out on the doppleganger. You get the sense that Alice is more angry that her status is being usurped rather than terrified at this strange new thing, and it makes her obsession all the more unsettling. Director Daniel Goldhaber ramps up the surreal nature of the whole endeavor as the film goes on, drawing horror out of the sense of the unknown until and heightening every interaction Alice has with her “fans.” He’s a skilled director, making tension out of staring at a screen, not to mention a lurid visual palette.

“Cam” is a special type of horror film. It depicts the horror lurking under technology that could apply to anyone: Twitch streamers, YouTubers, even Instagram Live users. It does this without demeaning sex work or turning it into a lewd spectacle, instead using the loss of identity as the starting point for its horror. Moreover, it seems to actually get how important technology is to people’s livelihoods and social lives and respects the amount of work it takes to get to a certain level. All in all, it makes for a strange, unnerving watch, perhaps one best suited for a computer screen.