Film Film Reviews

Madeline Brewer Thrills As The Camgirl Who Is Replaced By A Doppelgänger – Cam Review

5_star_ratings

BEING locked out of an online account can be an extremely frustrating, if not enraging, experience. In Daniel Goldhaber’s psychological thriller Cam, being ‘locked out’ is taken to frightening levels of anxiety as it threatens our protagonist’s livelihood, body, identity – and very existence.

Alice (Madeline Brewer) is a camgirl on the website Freegirls.live. Under the alias Lola, she puts on shows from her bedroom in an effort to gain more tokens (the website’s form of currency) and climb the site’s popularity leaderboard. These shows largely involve a provocatively dressed Lola sitting in front of her webcam and flirtatiously interacting with her baying virtual audience – who go by usernames such as ‘FireMANdy’ and ‘giggleguy’.

Written by former sex worker Isa Mazzei, Cam gives a nuanced and informative look at this complicated subculture without ever taking away from the genre thrills. Although Alice’s brand of cam work seems fairly standard, a quick montage of other cammers shows the diversity of women on the site – and the diversity of ways they express themselves. One woman takes the relaxed approach of reading a book by the bathtub while another aesthetically dazzles by drenching herself in blue glitter.

Likewise, Alice’s work is not merely a case of turn up and undress. She keeps a detailed calendar in which she plots the different themes of her shows (dinner night etc) and the progression of her leaderboard ranking. Not too dissimilar from many YouTubers (Alice even opens her videos with the standard YouTuber opening: ‘Hey Guys!’), her success is built upon producing daily content to meet the intimate needs of her audience. Cam shows that – when functioning correctly – sex work can be creative and empowering.

cam

For Alice, her creativity leads her to rile up her audience in various ways, occasionally performing a fake suicide to end a show. An attention-grabbing approach that she hopes will help her achieve her goal of breaking into the site’s top fifty most popular camgirls.

But competition on Freegirls.live is fierce. A run-in with the underhanded and catty PrincessX (Samantha Robinson), who tries to draw viewers away from Lola by promising nudity, demonstrates this. Such competition is enough to push Alice to new lengths to attract viewers, some of which threaten her own health.

This is an enticing pursuit of online popularity that anyone who has spent time on social media should be able to relate to. Alice, like many of us on Twitter and Facebook, has been sucked in by the lure of the attention and feedback her online persona receives. It’s exciting and addictive, but also wrapping.

So when Alice wakes up one morning to find she has been locked out of her account, she is understandably panicked. All the more terrifying, Alice checks on Freegirls.live to find out she is still online only with a mysterious doppelgänger in her place.

This mysterious revelation sets off a spiralling second half of this film that probes at the dangers of our online personas. What happens when we push our online personas so far that we stop recognising ourselves? What happens when that online personas takes on a life of its own or, worst still, is hijacked by a corrupted force?

Alice’s identity crisis is carried off by an outstanding and versatile performance from Brewer, who effectively portrays three different characters in the film. She brilliantly switches between the performative confidence of Lola and the vulnerable nail-biting, normality of Alice.

This is a contrast between Alice and Lola that is also mirrored visually in the film’s settings. Alice’s webcam room is neon and pink – inspired by 1970’s Pink Narcissus – and given further energy by the fast-moving visuals of the Freegirls.live site (expertly and immersively edited together by Goldhaber’s team). Away from the room, Alice’s life is populated by drained colours. A drab, slower existence that makes Alice’s fascinating with the thrills of camming even more understandable.

Those around Brewer are also cleverly constructed and casted. The thoroughly entertaining Robinson elevates every scene she is in as the manipulative Princess X. It is hard to imagine a scenario in which Robinson isn’t a major player in American cinema in the coming years. She oozes star quality.

Patch Darragh delivers the unnerving, sweaty awkwardness of Tinker, a fan of Lola’s who misreads the camworld fun for something more real. His appearance at points of the film spikes the paranoia levels.

Meanwhile, Melora Walters Lynne brings depth to Alice’s loving and camsite-oblivious mother. Devin Druid Jordan rounds of this teetering family dynamic as the younger brother who is aware and accepting of Alice’s online profession.

In its fascinating and visually striking portrayal of a image-based subculture, Cam did remind me of Nicolas Winding Refn’s The Neon Demon. But this is a tighter and more accessible affair that looks at the ways our online personas can be distorted – and can distort us. A message that extends well beyond the camgirl world.

With a must-see central performance from Brewer and impressive execution throughout, Goldhaber’s film sits alongside Isabelle Eklöf’s Holiday as one of the best films of the year so far.

It is no surprise Netflix jumped at the chance to pick up Cam. Goldhaber and Mazzei are a winning partnership I would be willing to spend all of my tokens on.

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