Cam: Through the looking screen
Effective and thrilling, Cam is a modern tale of identity in the digital era. One that gives way to both a great psychological horror piece and a feminist critique in the process.
Directed by Daniel Goldhaber and released in 2018, Cam is a psychological horror movie that follows Alice, a successful cam girl who goes by the name of Lola. Obsessed with the success of her online persona, she wakes up one day to find out that her account has been hacked and her online identity stolen by someone who looks exactly like her, and with whom she can actually interact.
From the beginning, Cam is fast-paced and entertaining, and as the film progresses, both the visuals and the story are able to hook the viewers, making them question what they’re seeing -and what they aren’t-. Cam is part of a trend in horror movies that has started to incorporate technology-related issues. But where I think this film stands out from the rest is in the way that it involves technology not only as a mere plot element or as a setting, but also as a tool for creating, in an effectively dark and disturbing way, a poignant social commentary on what identity means in modern times.
The idea of a doppelgänger is something that has been widely used in popular culture, and I have always found a somewhat creepy nature in it. The thought of someone who is physically identical to you, though not remotely related, is something that can give goosebumps to anyone. So, it is only logical that the first thing the viewer asks throughout the film is: who is the person behind the screen doing this to Alice?
Spoiler alert: We never know. And that’s the gist of it all. Cam does not seem to bother to give us any answers to the questions we are immediately drawn to: Who is this person? What is it? Why are they doing this? And that’s intentional, because those aren’t the questions the movie is really posing. We soon realize this isn’t what the film is about. It is about the fracture of identity and what identity is today, in the digital world.
In Cam, Alice already has a doppelgänger, and that’s Lola. So, who is this double of her double? Who is this double identity thief? The real question isn’t who this person is, but who she is. Is she Alice? Is she Lola? Is she both? What the film shows is that the lines between one and the other are completely blurred. We don’t get the answers we want because they aren’t the answers Alice/Lola is looking for. All she wants is her account/identity back, without caring who did this to her. And, as she says so herself, it they were to steal it again, she’ll just create a new one, over and over again…
An interesting touch in the film is that it is packed with references to Alice in Wonderland (f.i. the usernames MadHatter and MrTeapot; the street she lives in: Wonderdale Street; and, needless to say, the fact that the main character is named Alice). This might not be particularly groundbreaking, since it’s a story that has strong legacy in cinema and popular culture, but it is extremely well-done and works perfectly, updating the age-old tale of reality and fiction within the realm of our contemporary fantasyland: the online world.
Another aspect that is central to the movie, despite only being directly addressed a couple of times, is what being a cam girl implies. From meeting with an online client who acts as if he’s entitled to her because of the tokens he pays, to seeking help from the police only to receive lewd comments, Alice/Lola personifies the challenges she must face daily because of her job, being seen as a mere object of desire for the voyeuristic male. The film is told from the cam girl’s viewpoint, which is something that I believe is truly outstanding. This could only be done thanks to the fact that it was written by Isa Mazzei, a real-life former cam girl who created the screenplay based on her own experiences. Fun fact: At first, she wanted to do a documentary, but then decided to address the story from a new perspective, that is, through horror. This undoubtedly gives the story an element of rawness to it, one that would not have been achieved if created by a man.
As a thriller/horror film, Cam is intense, and it builds suspense in the best of ways. It also has a great performance by Madeline Brewer, one that feels authentic and terrifying altogether. I wouldn’t jump to say Cam is one of the best movies of the decade, but I do think it’s a great film that flew under the radar for many of us, and it is definitely one of Blumhouse’s most outstanding productions from past years. I would highly recommend Cam to any fans of the psychological horror subgenre. As I’m sure happened to a lot of viewers, after watching the film, I immediately googled “Cam ending explained”, and soon realized I was also being a victim of the power technology has over us today. So, watch it, but try avoiding the human instinct to seek answers for everything. Otherwise, you might find yourself falling down the rabbit’s hole…
Available on: Netflix (US, SP, CO)