Review by Bears Rebecca Fonte
If you’re going to make a film about cam girls, you have to be willing to get a little dirty. In Daniel Goldhaber’s feature debut CAM, making its world premiere at Fantasia, the filmmaker takes us inside the highly profitable and seductive world of amateur online modeling. Madeline Brewer from The Handmaid’s Tale plays Alice, an up-and-comer who performs under the name Lola. Desperate to reach the top 10, her cam shows get more and more ridiculous, often involving her performing fake suicides with knives and blood to please her online room. She has a ‘mark’ which helps her push the room into a spending frenzy, someone obsessed with her in the troublesome way that people in these online relationships based on sexual power exchange often are. Alice’s life gets more complicated when somebody posing as her pops up doing her show in her style and reaching even greater heights of success. She finds herself locked out of her own account and fighting to prove that she is the real Alice. As she tries to protect her identity and her safety she uncovers a form of Supernatural conspiracy that is surprising but unfortunately completely unexplained.
As a reviewer I often find myself in the troublesome position of wanting to like a film more than I end up liking it and then holding the film to stakes it may never have been attempting. On this film especially — I have a bit of personal knowledge about this industry from a documentary I’m working on — I found myself at a loss to forgive some of the choices that are made in the film. For example, almost every single Cam Sites (for example, MyFreeCams.com) explicitly forbids weapons of any kind, as well as violence and blood. Therefore, the major premise of Alice’s persona is difficult. I also kept getting taken out of the story by the technicalities of the way websites work and how this person would be able to pose as her doing live shows when it was clearly an identical twin that she didn’t have. The film asks us to believe that somehow somebody is manipulating past recordings and then showing them as live, until we realize they are not past recordings and they are in fact live and somehow this is actually happening, which leads to the supernatural element. This almost get-out-of-jail-free third act twist really falls flat because it removes everything that seemed to be at stake from the reality of the film. And just as that plot point enters, the film basically ends without explaining anything or tying anything up.
To me it feels like CAM is desperately trying to create a franchise rather than tell a story. Because Alice’s primary conflict is with a version of herself that she never sees and is removed from by virtue of it being in an online performance, Alice pretty much feels safe through the whole film. She is annoyed that somebody is trying to steal her identity and take her success, but nothing really bad or dangerous is happening to her. The little bit of danger that feels possible in the film comes from the superfan that may be stalking her that moved into the same city to be closer to her. That plot point never really develops, and by the time she seeks him out to confront him, we’re already on to the supernatural reasoning behind what’s happening. While I think there is fertile ground for a horror story in the world of cam shows, this film didn’t really live up to the promise.