Fantasia 2018: CAM Review – A Titillating Peep Show of Cyber Terror

Starring Madeline Brewer, Patch Darragh, Melora Walters

Written by Isa Mazzei

Directed by Daniel Goldhaber

Reviewed at Fantasia 2018

Lola (Madeline Brewer) is a cam girl, a paid entertainer who performs for viewers via webcam on an adult website. “Lola” is actually her stage name; her real name is Alice Ackerman and like many performers in the cam industry, she likes to maintain privacy in her personal life but enjoys being watched on her own terms. Working like a contractor would, Alice provides her own equipment (web cam, mood lighting, fluffy props) and decides what the nature of her shows will be. The content that she creates is primarily made up of videos, live shows, and private chats in which members tip tokens for anything from voting purposes to earning the privilege of making requests. The tokens not only translate to a fair income for Alice, but it also moves her up within the viciously competitive ranking of cam girls on the Free Girls Live website. It’s the pursuit of the number one spot on this ranking that motivates Alice in Daniel Goldhaber’s Cam, which premiered at 2018’s Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal.

The film begins with a show in which a scantily-clad Lola, to the delight of her morbidly curious users, fakes her own suicide. She seems to be egged on and desperate for tokens at first, but then reveals herself to be in control the entire time. Like a submissive during a BDSM session, Lola may be at the mercy of her demanding viewers, but she has the final say in the kinky events that unfold. Eventually, Alice wakes up one morning to find that she can no longer log into her own account, yet it’s still active. In fact, it’s showing what looks like Lola herself, streaming a live show. Customer support is entirely unhelpful, and Alice is unable to access or stop the stream. When she enters Lola’s chatroom under a new account to tell her fans that Free Girls Live is not really streaming her live, she is promptly banned. She creates a new account, reenters the chat, and the “Lola” in the video greets her by her new account’s username, seemingly proving that the stream is indeed live but raising countless questions.

Cam’s pace marches to a beat previously seen in tech-centric horror of years past; after taking the time to hammer down the stakes, the dread builds fast and furious as the worst thing that could possibly happen to the main character, happens at every juncture. After losing control of her account, a snowball effect occurs and Alice loses her grip on life entirely as both her professional and personal realms bleed together; her line of work is exposed to loved ones, a fan of hers moves to her city and stalks her, and another customer physically attacks her. All the while, this faux Lola is moving up the totem pole and doing sexually explicit shows in…well, in her own name. But it’s not her.

The plot is an Icarus-like freefall into the perils of ambition, the scarlet-lettered shame of sex work, and the increasingly pertinent (looking at you, Star Wars fandom) monstrosity of fan entitlement. The screenplay is written by former cam girl Isa Mazzei, resulting in a refreshingly sex-positive movie that takes issue with elements of the cam industry without passing stigmatic judgment upon the women who choose to participate in it. Cam girls in the movie run the spectrum of shapes, sizes, skin tones, and personalities, performing for their viewership in ways both erotic and benign, to the digitized melody of tip notifications. While Alice suffers the slings and arrows of prejudice towards her adults-only profession, it is clear that the choice is her own and, when she’s not sparring wits with publicly-masturbating online dopplegangers, she enjoys the views, and revels in the worship. Because this is a horror movie, this all translates into a tense dynamic between Alice’s public and private self.

There are several beautifully filmed moments that warrant a tip of the cap to cinematographer Katelin Arizmendi, working in tandem with director Goldhaber and writer Mazzei to echo themes surrounding control. The POV oscillates between the chaotic neutral of laptop monitor framing, intimate close-ups, and frenzied handheld cam instability. Cam is thoroughly lubed up with Goldhaber’s stylized presentation, from the occasional Raimi-esque quickcut sequences to a dizzying Nicholas Winding Refn-friendly palette of neons and every shade of pink imaginable

There lies an ambiguity that works in Cam’s favor. Rather than get too bogged down in technicalities (can you hear me now, Cell?), the film opts to infuse terror not into the webcam itself, but into its central starlet’s surreal loss of autonomy. The nature of the beast doesn’t need to be spoon-fed to viewers in order for the tension to stack like so many gold tokens.

Madeline Brewer sells Alice’s determined moxie, coquettish charm, and utter bewilderment with equal measure, and Michael Dempsey steals a scene as Barney, one of Lola’s highest tippers, who implies ownership of the women he tips with the vaguely threatening line, “I’m the guy who decides if you rank or not.” He gets even more incel-cozy from there. Again, fan ownership plays heavily into the story. Alice breaks into the Top 50 during a show and her viewers celebrate with her, typing phrases like “We’ve been trying for this”. Naturally, some viewers might take on a “We made you, we own you” attitude, a frustratingly relevant concept to explore in contemporary horror cinema.

Cam takes the stomach-dropping moment in which one realizes they’re in a quiet nightmare and stretches it into a 94-minute orgy of injustice. Congratulations, Lola— your ordeal has made it into my Top 50 horror films of the year.

  • Cam


Cam takes the stomach-dropping moment in which one realizes they’re in a quiet nightmare and stretches it into a 94-minute orgy of injustice.

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