'Cam' Review: A Sexy And Sinister Thrillride Through The World Of Camgirls [Fantastic Fest]

In Nietzsche's philosophical book, Beyond Good and Evil, he penned the phrase  "he who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster. And if thou gaze long into an abyss, the abyss will also gaze into thee." He chronicled a critique in favor of the perspectival nature of knowledge, the idea that there is no way of seeing the world as taken definitively as truth since there are many perspectives and conceptual schemes in which the judgement of truth and value can be made. The lines between good and evil are thus blurred as the construction of self can be a detrimental yet malleable effort.

In the modern day, social media and the image we project online can vastly differ from our true selves in person. Similarly, the truths behind deviances or taboo cultures such as sex work can be misunderstood by the general public with limited knowledge of what truly goes on behind closed doors, or sleeping monitors. That brings us to director Daniel Goldhaber as he slyly tackles philosophical notions of morality, the idea of self, and concepts of good versus evil all within the world of webcam pornography in his debut feature, Cam.

Find out more in our full Cam review below.

The narrative spotlights Alice, a camgirl who goes by the stage name "Lola". Captivatingly played by Madeline Brewer (The Handmaid's Tale), Lola's main goal is to break into the Top 50 ranking on her website but needs the help of her "Johns", the regular visitors to her channel that tip her increasing amount of tokens as her performance escalates in kink or pleasure. While Lola works in the sex industry, she maintains a certain moral code. She does not do public shows, tell her John's she loves them, or fake her orgasms. Monetary concerns are irrelevant because online social status is her primary focus as she closely keeps an eye on fellow camgirls in the biz like number one ranked "Baby" (Imani Hakim) and Top 20 favorite, "Princess" (The Love Witch's Samantha Robinson). There's a sense of urgency in her need for validation and even when she is offline as "Lola", Alice stays glued to the screen in one way or another, constantly trying to stay available and relevant but mostly making sure that she feels validated as well as desired.

After she performs a show in a cam house with other girls, Alice wakes up to find her account has not only been hacked, but someone has been playing repeat shows on her channel as if she were live. Frantically trying to fix the problem, she realizes that her identity has been stolen and neither tech support nor the police are able to alleviate the issue. Witnessing herself live streaming, Alice watches as "Lola" inches closer to the Top 10 and her sense of control is quickly spiraling out by physically and psychologically. She takes matters into her own hands as her physical and virtual world crumble around her, unable to grasp what is real and what is fiction.

The themes explored in Cam appear relatable in the technological world we inhabit. Instant validation, a sense of control on how others may perceive you coupled with a projection of false images through social media is a concept that allows viewers to normalize our heroine. However, Alice maintains a sense of control throughout, even if it's fleeting while she is on the brink of insanity. She sets boundaries and her willingness to be told what to do but also express limits by saying no is an important, sex positive message that can get lost when creating characters within a sex worker subculture. The respect and confidence in her craft for herself and her fellow cam girls (competitors included) are evident. Additionally, her communication and actions provide a positive portrayal within the BDSM paradigm that is rarely revealed within the world of online sex work. Despite the initial disapproval of her line of work, Alice's mother (Melora Waters) grows to not only accept but support Alice, which enhances character depth, storyline, and normalizes the taboo behind deviant sexuality. This representation can largely be contributed to writer Isa Mazzei, a former camgirl herself.

Cam Review

To further enhance the dual nature of Alice and her online persona both before her account was hacked and after, production designer Emma Rose Mead and set decorator Victoria Foraker utilize color to brilliantly juxtapose Alice's dueling personalities. Her studio is decorated in lush and lavish hues of purple and pink that invoke a sense of romantic eroticism while Alice's normal bedroom is reflective of her true self, messy and basic in her beige bed sheets and generic furniture.

A duality also exists among Lola's viewers as the men in her chat room appear to be supportive of helping her reach her ranking goal with tokens and words of encouragement. However, the reality kicks in once two men appear in real-life, lonely, pathetic and stalking "Lola" as she desperately enlists their help in a covert manner. Their adoring nature online quickly becomes dangerous as she realizes they may possess the secrets she needs in order to destroy her doppleganger and reclaim both her personal and online life.

Brewer delivers an electrifying performance as she weaves back and forth in both roles. As Alice, close-up shots enhance the terror she experiences; she maintains an embedded danger behind her eyes that every woman can relate to when assessing one's safety; and perfectly hides behind apprehensive smies to appease interest while simultaneously assessing risk. As "Lola", her playful nature is commanding set against the candy-colored backdrop of her studio.

While the twists are ample, the film's ending results in a fairly cursory climax void of definitive resolution and depth. However, Cam is a multi-layered existential thriller with captivating pacing and unique experimental storytelling. Goldhaber successfully delivers a film that is both empowering and engrossing. Shot in a sexy, stylized aesthetic, Cam is one of those films that obscures self-awareness and morality with sharp precision while exposing concepts many of us would rather shut down than face.

/Film Rating: 7 out of 10