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New Release Review (VOD) - CAM

CAM movie review
A cam-girl finds her identity stolen by an online doppelganger.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Daniel Goldhaber

Starring: Madeline Brewer, Patch Darragh, Melora Walters, Devin Druid, Imani Hakim, Samantha Robinson

CAM movie poster


Director Daniel Goldhaber's feature debut, CAM, opens with what appears to be a live-streamed suicide, as cam-girl Alice (Madeline Brewer) slices open her throat after being egged on by the paying voyeurs who frequent her video chatroom. We're relieved to learn it's all been staged for the camera, part of an increasingly edgy performance routine undertaken by Alice - or 'Lola', as she is known online - in a desperate attempt to rise through the rankings of the hundreds of young women eking out a similar living on the site that hosts their streams.

Just when Alice breaks into the much coveted Top 50, she is surprised to discover that someone is streaming a show through her 'Lola' channel, and even more shocked to find that the young woman who has stolen her identity is an exact physical double of herself, and somehow seems to be streaming from Alice's bedroom, a physical impossibility. Locked out of her account and forced to watch as this mysterious replacement reaps the rewards of her hard work, Alice embarks on an investigation to find the source of this unsettling and implausible case of identity theft.

CAM movie review

If Kafka and Dostoyevsky were alive today, their concerns might well revolve around the dangers of the internet and its potential for dehumanising its users. Every week it seems like some celebrity's career is in tatters because someone trawled through their online history and dug up some ill-judged tweet or Facebook post, setting the 21st century equivalent of a torch-wielding mob after them. Stories of teenage girls taking their lives because someone made a disparaging comment about their appearance below an Instagram post are all too common. And most of us live in fear of having our online financial accounts hacked, leaving us potentially destitute.

One of the largest existential threats lurking online is that of identity theft, and with horror stories of millions of users having their details leaked through the hacking of sites as seemingly reputable as Facebook, it's a growing scourge. Working with co-writer Isa Mazzei (a former cam-girl herself), Goldhaber takes this very contemporary fear and combines it with the classic doppelganger plotline of a mysterious lookalike replacing the existence of the protagonist, usually through adopting a heightened, 'superior' version of their target, a plot seen in recent films like Denis Villeneuve's Enemy and Richard Ayoade's The Double.

CAM movie review

Through our online personas, usually cultivated to make us appear as the best versions of ourselves, we create our own doppelgangers, so the idea of having our online self turn against us is a prescient source of existential horror that will get under the skin of anyone who spends time online, and particularly those of us who rely heavily on a web presence to pay our bills.

Goldhaber and Mazzei commendably present the cam-girl lifestyle in a non-judgemental fashion. While Alice becomes a victim of the mysterious force taking over her online self, she's never painted as a victim of her profession. In her Lola guise, Alice is always in control, and when her mother (Melora Walters) learns of her daughter's secret online life, she commends Alice for how confident she appears on screen, in contrast with the self-doubting young woman she knows in real life. Despite its sexualised nature and S&M accoutrements, Alice's show is relatively mundane, and once she logs off she lets out a weary sigh of relief which anyone who has worked in a job that involves interacting with the public will readily identify with.

CAM movie review

Yet while it's a compelling look at the life of a young person struggling to stay afloat in the gig economy, CAM never quite succeeds as the horror movie it sets out to be. Much of this is down to the lack of threat to Alice, who may have lost her cultivated following, but seems seems savvy enough to be able to build it up again relatively quickly. Confronted by her exact physical double, Alice never seems anywhere near as perturbed as she should be by this shock, and her investigation leads to a rather trite explanation of what exactly is occurring.

CAM isn't the definitive take on the horrors that lurk in the shadows of the online world, but it may have you checking the strength of your email password.

CAM is on Netflix now.


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