The opening of Netflix’s new psychological thriller CAM sees Madeline Brewer (The Handmaid’s Tale) working her online channel of men into a frenzy, dancing for the camera in her underwear, spanking herself for more likes, and eventually slicing her own throat with a knife at the urgent ALL CAPS request of one of the men in the online room who offers her more “tokens” (or “likes” in the form of money). Blood spills out of her neck, and Lola slumps over dead.
But CAM is not that movie. It’s not the slasher film that the opening teases. Lola is a proud and enthusiastic sex worker who sometimes fakes her death in order to get the men in her channel off. She loves her job, and she’s determined to rise among the ranks of cam models into the top 50 positions among her colleagues. CAM, written by former cam model Isa Mazzei, features no rape or torture — Lola is an enthusiastic and skilled sex worker who also has complete control over the situation, as well as the men in her chat rooms. She’s all about coming up with the next outrageous act to boost her profile, and while some of CAM is filmed through the lens of a horror flick — we’re often given the sense that Lola may become the victim of a stalker — it’s largely sex-positive and not at all exploitative.
The villain in CAM is not a crazed stalker from the Internet; it’s the Internet itself. In the second act, CAM takes a Black Mirror-like twist when Lola is locked out of her online room and forced to watch as someone who looks exactly like her takes over her online life. Her online doppelgänger is even better at cam work than Lola is — the doppelgänger has mastered the algorithm — and Lola finds herself in the unenviable position of trying to take back her online personae. That entails working with a couple of men from her online room and ultimately trying to outwit her online twin in order to win back her identity.
But is CAM any good? I don’t know about that, but it’s definitely interesting — we’ve been conditioned (by male directors) to believe that the movie will go one way, but it consistently goes another, and some of those choices are exciting. On the other hand, if CAM were pitted against Black Mirror it would definitely fall into the middle rung of entries: Interesting but slight, more like a short story than a full-length feature. But that also makes Netflix the perfect venue for CAM — it features a strong lead performance from Brewer; it’s a great conversation piece; and while the concept is brilliant, the film doesn’t have quite enough tricks up its sleeve to sustain it.
Header Image Source: Netflix