Daniel Goldhaber’s Cam, written by Isa Mazzei, is a provocative, intelligent thriller that also happens to be extremely seductive. It toys with eroticism and exhibitionism but never veers into the salacious or exploitational, which is a rare feet for a horror film based on the work of an internet seductress.
Isa Mazzei’s former career as a sex worker heavily influences her script, not just in terms of the fetishes and thrills that consume purveyors of such corners of the internet, but for the psychology of the women performing for the unblinking eye of a webcam. Cam literally goes beyond the two-dimensional façade of the performance to delve into deeper aspects, from family dynamics to the insidious stalking of fans “IRL” that bring their own set of dangers.
We’re introduced to Lola (Madeline Brewer), a “cam girl” performing to a virtual crowd who throw tokens as tips as she answers their requests and titillates with relatively chaste sexual performances. In an attempt to climb the ladder of popularity, she finds herself becoming more and more provocative, bending her own rules to grab the virtual crown. When her gains are quickly stripped back, she discovers that something far more nefarious may be driving her entire community, and what she uncovers is as unexpected as it is troubling.
Rather than some simple morality/revenge tale, the film brilliantly undercuts expectations scene after scene, crafting a tight and energizing thriller while never shying away from the many troubling aspects of this line of work. The movie combines a sense of paranoia and thrill that’s brilliantly executed, thanks to a fully committed performance by Brewer, who inhabits her role as both the IRL Alice and her online presence Lola with incredible verve.
As the film grows more complex and some of its events strain plausibility, Goldhaber refuses to let things fling off into the ether. He keeps the narrative moving without devolving into farce or rote horror tropes. This precision of execution is laudable, particularly for a first-time feature director and an untested screenwriter, resulting in a film far more pointed and effective than many from veteran filmmakers.
Shot with a kaleidoscopic palette by cinematographer Katelin Arizmendi, the division between the real world and fantasy is conveyed in visually exquisite ways, at times echoing the likes of Nicolas Winding Refn’s style while at others appearing more like a Mike Leigh kitchen drama. These shifts in mood and style elevate the work from mere genre trifle to a film that’s captivating both aesthetically and narratively.
The clever storyline and morally complex finale truly set the piece apart. At every moment when you expect easy answers, expectations are undercut, and the most chilling part is that there’s a deep truth to the nature of this darkest of seductions. We understand Alice’s decisions even as they’re often contradictory and self-defeating, and we empathize with her as her own dark tendencies drive her in ways that are anything but heroic. Within the quagmire of this world are no flawless individuals, and the sympathetic treatment of all these myriad aspects makes the film quite exceptional.
As both social commentary and a tense, thrilling genre piece, Cam exceeds any preconceptions and provides a bit of kinky, smart fun. Given Blumhouse’s recent track record, the studio has another memorable genre picture this year to make audiences squirm and think in equal measure.