There’s so much excess on Netflix these days, it’s near impossible to find a diamond in the rough. Cam is one of them. It’s a unique, tense, surprising, genre-blender that doesn’t quite stick the landing but makes the trip worth it nonetheless.
Directed by Daniel Goldhaber and written by Isa Mazzei, Cam stars Madeline Brewer (The Handmaid’s Tale) as Alice, a young woman who makes money as a cam girl using the name “Lola.” And while the film has a strong sense of sexuality and is set in that world, sex is never the focus. Mazzei’s script, inspired by her own time as a cam girl, very quickly announces to its audience this movie is about much more than that. Cam twists your expectations in deliciously complex ways and makes it obvious that nothing, from murder to suicide to alternate realities, is off the table.
Before things get really weird, though, Cam takes things slow. First, it’s about the different personas people have on the internet and how that can impact our everyday lives. Then it’s about what people are willing to do for money and the dangers of online validation. Eventually, it becomes about an empowered woman taking charge of her life in shocking, creepy, and violent ways to solve an incredibly intriguing mystery.
That mystery is the best part of Cam, and it’s the way a film that could have been simply a commentary on internet culture becomes something much more original and exciting. One day Alice/Lola wakes up to see that her cam channel is online, only she’s not online. Instead, she finds herself watching a person who looks exactly like her, talks exactly like her, and lives in a room exactly like hers, performing on her channel.
This excellent twist not only gives Cam its main narrative drive, it grabs our attention, sparks our imagination, and simultaneously acts as a commentary on everything Alice/Lola had been dealing with before. The different personas, the online validation, the power of money, all of it now becomes much more vital and difficult to justify as seen from an outsider’s point of view. It also sets her up for an almost film noir quest to solve a whodunit, resulting in several nail-biting sequences.
Throughout it all, a film set entirely in the sex industry could have easily felt exploitative or uncomfortable, and yet, Goldhaber’s direction in Cam never lets that happen. The sex isn’t so much in the nudity or language—both of which are prevalent—it’s in the lighting, the sets, and the camera angles and movements. Everything we see has a very lush, sensuous feel around it but the focus is always on the film’s issues, characters, and the mystery at the center. A lot of that can be linked to Brewer too, who makes Alice/Lola feel incredibly real and grounded. Even in the face of all kinds of disgusting situations, she makes the best of them and prevails by being witty and resourceful. She’s a heroic, uplifting character in a world that doesn’t always feel that way.
Unfortunately, Cam suffers a bit as it reaches the culmination of its story. Mazzei and Goldhaber have crafted such a masterful mystery with such a great character that by the time it provides answers, they didn’t come close to satisfying my crazy ideas of who, or what, copied Alice/Lola’s life. Nevertheless, they’re delivered in a really intense, smart way and once the credits roll, Cam leaves us with much more good than bad. It’s entertaining, it’s super weird, and it’s thought-provoking too, all of which are much better than 99 percent of the other stuff you scroll by on Netflix.
Cam is now on, you guessed it, Netflix.
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