Produced by Isabelle Link-Levy, John H. Lang,
Greg Gilreath, Adam Hendricks,
Written by Isa Mazzei
Story by Daniel Goldhaber,
Isa Mazzei, Isabelle Link-Levy
Directed by Daniel Goldhaber
Starring Madeline Brewer, Patch Darragh
Melora Walters, Devin Druid, Imani Hakim,
Michael Dempsey, Jessica Parker Kennedy
Whether we like it or not, most of us live two separate lives: one in the flesh and one in the digital world.
Since the Internet became widely accessible in the past fifteen or so years, numerous aspects of our lives have moved to the world binary code, from our jobs to even our sex lives.
The latter of these two is perhaps the fascinating, a dichotomy in how something intimate between two people can be diluted into an experience between thousands of anonymous users and an “actor” or two.
This development seems like it would be ripe for cinematic exploration.
Unfortunately, Cam, one of the latest Netflix original films, is not that intrepid explorer, offering a bland narrative despite occasionally hinting at a more nuanced story underneath.
The film centers around Alice (Madeline Brewer), or Lola as she’s known to her legion of fans, a camgirl entrenched in the world of live internet pornography. Positioning herself as a gunner in the rankings of the time livecam site (think Porn Hub but specifically for live camgirls), Alice is constantly striving to break the top 50.
However, she wakes up one morning to find that her account is being run by someone else, an exact doppelganger of herself. As her identity is stripped from her every day, she embarks on a dark and disturbing exploration of her identity and the true nature of the business she’s a part of.
Cam follows in the vein of films like Searching or Unfriended by embracing a “screenlife” narrative, utilizing screen-based programs to convey information. From the actual live streams and the chat rooms to the protagonists’ fevered Google search, almost half the film is spent looking at electronic interfaces. While the film’s premise lends itself to an obvious and necessary reliance on this aesthetic, it can’t help but keep the film from developing any genuine investment in the lead character. When we’re being told all this information at face value, there’s no sense of subtlety to draw upon.
This is compounded by the fact that the lead is severely underdeveloped.
Outside of her job as a camgirl, we don’t see any other aspect of our life. It could be argued that this is a commentary on the cutthroat nature of her industry and the obsessive need to maintain fan loyalty by being online at all hours of the day, but it robs the protagonist of feeling like an actual person. There is some interesting material to be explored in how perception of sex workers can affect the worker’s family and their view of the worker, but outside of a few scenes, this isn’t fully fleshed out. The scenes with Alice’s family were easily my favorite part of the movie and the only moments when her vulnerability and genuine humanity felt like it was really being conveyed.
However, even while the truth behind the mysterious doppelganger is ultimately a safe cop out, there’s something to be said for the rather intense climax.
In a clever psychological battle between Alice and her digital duplicate, the film dives head first into the depravity of online pornographic culture, condemning the viewership as faceless spectators cheering on the sparrers like gladiators fighting to the death at the Coliseum. The rapid editing and excellent dual role acting on the part of Brewer make it a real showstopper of and ending.
As someone who as a strong aversion to the current slew of “technophobic” science fiction that seems to be dominating the culture zeitgeist at the moment, Cam isn’t the one to bring me the other side.
It’s insistence on the profound nature of its warnings of digital immersion seem trite in an era where this kind of dogma is preached on every street corner. If it leaned harder into its human story, it might have made for something a little more interesting, but as it stands, it’s largely dull.
I guess this all I really long way of me saying that I’m more of a Twilight Zone guy than a Black Mirror person.
Cam is currently streaming on Netflix.