An authentic, unexpected, and thrilling addition to modern horror canon.
Cam is a uniquely thrilling film not just because it sits comfortably inside the genre and delivers at almost every turn, but also because it’s a film about sex work that feels interesting, authentic, and most importantly authentic. That realism comes begins with Daniel Goldhaber’s tight direction–which tends to be pretty neutral until they want to ramp up the paranoia, which is done to startling effect–but it mostly stems from writer Isa Mazzei, an ex-cam girl herself.
Madeline Brewer takes on the role of Lola, a young woman whose ascending career as a cam girl takes on a horrific edge when she wakes up to discover her channel has been taken on by an impostor who looks scarily like her. Brewer does a great job balancing the dual roles. Her performance as the original Lola is a ball of shredded nerves, bitten fingernails, and palpable fear, whereas the impostor is a more polished, outgoing, and reckless version of our protagonist.
In some ways Cam defies definition, as at times it feels like a horror film–especially in the great cold open–yet other moments are more reminiscent of a docudrama about sexwork that actually focuses on the women. In its strongest moments the movie seems like a direct descendant of films like Ingmar Bergman’s Persona, the kind of ethereal mood pieces that leave lingering questions about the idea of identity, uniqueness, and self.
The narrative seems to play on notions of agency and consent, as we’re introduced to Lola as a bright, bubbly cam girl with a healthy fanbase who’s proud of her work and just wants to be more widely recognized for her efforts. Lola is always completely in control, whether it’s crafting complex scenarios for her audience or blocking abusive men on her chat, She’s presented as a strong, capable woman who knows exactly what she’s doing. But when the impostor shows up, all of that changes, with Lola’s likeness being used without her permission, her source of income stolen, and her ability to perform taken away.
One of the most interesting and exciting things about Cam is how it breaks so many of the horror-thriller genre’s most basic rules just by respecting the women it features. The film never falls into dangerous tropes focused on the harm or brutalization of women. It’s a movie about sex workers, and not one of them dies or gets raped. And when a man does try and assault Lola, it’s nowhere close to explicit and she quickly escapes. It’s refreshing to watch a horror film about women that doesn’t focus on many of us dying so one “morally pure” woman can earn the right to live. It helps that Mazzei and Goldhaber also make it highly engaging and enjoyable.
Cam is immensely atmospheric. Whether it’s the erotic and slightly surreal pink neons of Lola’s webcam room or the drab reality of Lola’s life outside of her work, the film immerses you. The cast is really solid and the script gives them space to share small moments together, both positive and negative, that it feels like you rarely get in mainstream horror films. Lola’s relationship with her brother is particularly strong. Although the pair only share a few scenes, there’s a sweetness to the connection and honesty they share which makes it all the more hard to watch when the impostor puts it all at risk.
The third act might not completely gel for some viewers, as the creative team go the route of less is more when it comes to explaining the surreal happenings. The vagueness fits the film though, and gives us free reign to fill in the gaps. It’s particularly enjoyable seeing Brewer really stick the landing of her unconventional hero’s journey as she fights to gain back everything that is rightfully hers.