Movie Review: "Cam" (Netflix, 2018)
More rare than a chupacabra sighting is the movie that makes you sit up and tune out everything else around you (be it social media, text, familial obligation, or the need to piss). You don’t get that shit very often. When you do, don’t dick around- tell the world about it. Aren’t you lucky? I’m here to do just that.
I firmly believe that the magical formula is 1/3 social relevance, 1/3 entertainment, & 1/3 self-doubt. When a film can keep you enthralled while making a statement AND causing you to question yourself it’s a home run. When you combine that with the fact that nearly everyone on the planet Earth has Netflix today, you’ve got a big win. It doesn’t hurt when you get an endorsement from Stephen King, either.
Cam is the story of Alice Ackerman a.k.a. Lola_Lola (Madeline Brewer; The Handmaid’s Tale), a highly driven camgirl making her living via video chat sessions. To say that she’s eager to be the best in the business would be an understatement of Herculean proportions. In a beautifully scaled exposition of ambition, Alice is taking more and more steps to be the girl that all the online weirdos can’t live without. When her account is hijacked, however, her world begins to unravel. Things get 1000 times weirder and infinitely more frightening when someone who looks exactly like her start putting out online videos of increasingly graphic and depraved quality. As her life unravels around her, Alice realizes she must face her demons to set things right.
While there are certainly some who disagree, I feel that the most powerful cinema should have a core message that doesn’t compromise what it’s trying to say. It should make you more than a little uncomfortable. When you find yourself sitting in front of the movie screen or your home TV silently asking yourself “am I in this category?” the film has done it’s job.
Madeline Brewer is equal parts sexy and sad here. Her bright-eyed eagerness is entirely understandable, and therein lies the conundrum in Cam: if you can withhold your judgement of Alice, you quickly realize what a universally horrible situation this is. Sure, she’s making her money by presenting a form of pornography, but she’s as human as the rest of us are.
And there’s the crux: Madeline’s character is all of us. I don’t know about you, but I am certainly prone to both the pleasures of the flesh and a fanatical need to grind, to push my work out there and be the best at what I do. The combo of the two is, at times, all-consuming. It’s not only the life of the artist, but also the life of the individual who simply cannot be satisfied with being anything less than the best. I’ve often said that if I were born a woman I’d be a perfect fit for the porn business; not because I’m a dyed-in-the-wool freak but because using your God-given talents is just about the most natural thing in the world. Cam begs the question: why not use what He gave you?
It goes deeper than that, though. There’s a serious statement being made here about our societal addicition to social interaction through technology. It’s all about approval. We all want to be loved. The internet provides the perfect forum for that. What would you do if a clone were out there hijacking both your money and your face for the adoration of jizz-covered basement dwellers?
Cam is a film the perils of ambition. Cam is a film about the dangers of porn addiction. Cam is a strong statement about female empowerment. There are definitely layers upon layers to peel back and examine. Some of them will make you feel quite uncomfortable; at least, they made me uncomfortable. Honest admission. Cam is a movie that should make you question your part in the play, so to speak.
That raises the biggest flaw: trying to tackle too many hot-button topics in one film. My impression is that it’s by design, but simplicity certainly has its place, too. Tackling the problems of tech addiction, sex addiction, self-worship, and natural existential angst is almost too much.
Still, don’t lose sight of the fact that Cam is first-rate, thinking person’s horror. The effectiveness lies not in traditional horror elements (i.e. blood and guts, monsters, etc.) but in the things we can relate to. Watching Alice argue with the customer service rep and the police about her stolen identity will be familiar to everyone. As you get deeper into the web that Alice is trapped in, you realize that the most horrifying question of all is the most relevant one: what if your online persona became more popular than you and rendered you obsolete? Is it real or is it Memorex?
Also, don’t lose sight of the fact that Cam is as visually solid as anything that you are likely to see this year. The color palette is reminiscent of Neon Demon or Mandy. The cinematography is subtly done, letting the vibe shine through. The look is signature and pairs well with the bold approach to making a statement (whether you like it or not).
The way that Alice is brushed off by everyone she turns to for help smacks of the plight of women, even in this “enlightened” day and age. She’s just a camgirl, after all. If your account gets hacked you can still show your tits and ass under another name, right? It’s all about that notoriety and that paper at the end of the day.
Let it sink in while you view this one with open eyes. Cam is the most sobering (and unconventional) possession movie since The Exorcist. Don’t mistake it for anything else just because you don’t want to see how we’ve all been possessed by our tech. We’re all operating in the same rabbit hole, after all.