Netflix Movie ‘Cam’ Is a Peek Behind the Camgirl Curtain

A thriller with a powerful dose of female empowerment.

It’s rare enough to find a film that looks at how human sexuality has changed over the last few years, and rarer still one that addresses how much technology has become a huge part of it.

So when the movie, Cam, came out it was justifiably applauded for doing both.

On top of all this, Cam does both with a strong message of female empowerment.

Meet Alice and Lola_Lola

Directed by Daniel Goldhaber from a script by Isa Mazzei, Cam stars Madeline Brewer as Alice Ackerman: a rising-star camgirl with the stage name of Lola_Lola.

The film lives up to its thriller category almost immediately as, during a live show and apparently goaded by a majorly creepy fan, she apparently slits her own throat—which is quickly revealed to be a stunt to drive up her rank on the camgirl site she uses.

Before going too much further into the plot, we need to talk about Cam’s depiction of Alice’s life as a camgirl. Despite its immense popularity, which is growing every day, mainstream media too-commonly shows the women involved as desperate, pathetic.

Cam, though, breaks this mold by showing Alice as a professional: she studies other camgirls and their shows, blocks out her livestreams by time and content, and even establishes relationships with some of her special fans.

Barney (Michael Dempsey), for instance, is a big tipper and also sends her expensive gifts, while Tinker (Patch Darragh) is her undercover agent who helps to work the crowd during her shows.

Cam also does a good job of looking at the social world of cams by showing that some girls do nude shows while others do non-nude/non-sexual ones. Though these options go by so fast it’s hard for them to often register.

Unfortunately, the filmmakers also made the decision to make some of the other girls needlessly cruel. Though no doubt chosen to drive up tension and provide some red herrings, it also needlessly makes camming look too loften like a painfully hostile environment.

Technologically, Cam should definitely be applauded. Even though we don’t get a lot of detail, what we do see is a good introduction in how the system and the shows function, including how the token system, browser interface, and webcams work.

The doppelganger Lola_Lola

Things get rolling, plot-wise, when Alice discovers her camgirl show has been hijacked. The seriously creepy thing about this is, rather than just being a case of identity theft, is that the other Lola_Lola is her: a perfect copy looking, talking, and acting and putting on shows—in real time.

Alice tries to report this to the site administrators, which are first baffled and then, when Alice finds even her account number stolen, dismissive of her even being the real Alice.

The next part of the movie revolves around her frantically trying to figure out who is behind this doppelganger. Along the way, the rest of her life falls apart: she’s outed as a camgirl to her family, and then is assaulted by Barney when he accuses her of being a false Lola.

Desperate, she turns to Tinker, who reveals himself to be a deranged and unstable stalker. Despite this, he does give Alice an idea of what’s happening to her, which gives her a plan to confront the copy to try to get her life back.

Avoiding spoilers, the reveal is sadly not terribly fulfilling, though it does—sort of, kind of—touch on our contemporary fears of deepfakes and identity theft.

The conclusion, though, more than makes up for it. Not the way that Alice battles the doppelganger but what happens after the smoke has cleared.

Again, not wanting to spoil anything, but it’s an ending that’s equally satisfying as well as uplifting and steers well away from any kind of cliched judgment about sex work—particularly in regards to camming.

Drawn from experience

doppelganger

A key reason that Cam handles the subject so well is that Isa Mazzei, the scriptwriter was a camgirl herself. Though while she never encountered a similar doppelganger she did have to deal with some of her shows being copied and distributed without her permission, which was a major inspiration for the movie’s plot.

Interviewed by Vice, Mazzei talked about making Alice’s personal journey in Cam one of personal understanding, acceptance, and strength:

For Alice, in the beginning, she has full agency and full control over her show. And the fact that the movie feels scary is only because we get an audience to empathize with that in the beginning. They can’t feel this loss of agency if they don’t recognize that she has it in the beginning. Which is already hugely subversive. She has this show where these viewers are telling her to kill herself, but she’s actually orchestrated the whole thing. She has full control over this entire moment, full control over her body, and then that’s taken away.

Not perfect but quite good

Camgirl

When all’s said and done, Cam is an effective and well-crafted thriller that gives one of the best, and remarkably impartial looks at the world of camgirls.

Alice is an interesting and nuanced character, with just the right amount of vulnerability coupled with an admirable deep strength. Yes, she is scared out of her mind but she never runs to a man for help, never surrenders to it, and when she realizes she has to fight or lose everything, she is totally badass.

In regards to when Cam doesn’t work as well as it should, the biggest is the unsatisfying reveal of the true nature of the copycat. Beyond how some of the other girls are handled, the next largest flaw is that the male customers are only ever shown as either violently abusive or disturbed.

True, this is a reality in every form of sex work, but it being the only depiction of the customers does is far too much of a cliche. Unfortunate for a film that works so hard to otherwise avoid them.

All this aside, Cam truly is an unexpected treasure and fantastic exception to so many lazily-written horror/thriller films.

Even better, it successfully couples female empowerment, the realities of camming, identity and self-expression, and the choice to do sex work: all in a finely crafted, well-written, and visually striking package.

Image source: Netflix