LFF 2018: Cam Review
More on London Film Festival 2018
It is the bubblegum pink and warm purple aesthetic of Cam (2018) that immediately captures our attention, this infectious place drawing us in with its grand décor, plush furnishings and moody lighting. The only object that seems to be out of place is the giant screen keeping a watchful eye over everything. Welcome to Lola’s world: a place where tokens can buy anything your heart desires, whether that be a one-on-one chat with her, or something a lot more sordid. Yet working as an online webcam girl with a prestigious channel, Lola (Madeline Brewer) knows what to expect. Her clients pay and she does what they say, the more outrageous videos on her stream starting to bring in an increasing amount of viewers. But as her fanbase slowly grows, there seems to be someone else who also wants to cash in on her popularity.
Setting itself within this lesser known side of the sex industry layers Cam with all sorts of expectations when you start watching it, this instant access world of women seeming at first glance to be murky and exploitative. However, it is these expectations that director Daniel Goldhaber and writer Isa Mazzei so brilliantly play on, using our initial thoughts to wrong-foot us and take their film in a completely unexpected direction, while also challenging those ideas about an industry many would consider to be nothing more than sleazy. It’s true that Lola’s job might be a lot different than the usual nine to five, but she’s found her niche in life and is using it to her advantage, her hardworking attitude having enabled her to become quite successful already. Her reward is a steady income, regular presents from her viewers, and a place in the website’s top sixty channels – a number she is hoping to surpass in order to become one of the fifty most-viewed girls on the service. Yet as she edges ever closer to her goal, someone seems to be trying to sabotage her channel and steal her hard-earned cash. It is when Lola starts to investigate who might be behind this that Cam really comes into its own, the story gradually turning into something that is both gripping and at times genuinely creepy, the questions that begin piling up revealing even stranger answers.
This abrupt gear shift is perfectly executed by Goldhaber and Mazzei, a sudden change that steadily increases the tension and which keeps our intrigue piqued. Playing on aspects of the horror and thriller genre, Goldhaber and Mazzei build up the weirdness as Lola, real name Alice, starts to slowly be drawn into the bizarre mystery unfolding before her – a mystery that we can’t help but be pulled into as well. And as we go tumbling down the rabbit hole alongside her, we begin to wonder how much of what is happening is real, or if something even darker might be at play. Despite the more outlandish twists and turns that are revealed later on, the realism is still felt throughout Cam, mostly thanks to Madeline Brewer’s excellent central performance. Her journey from bubbly and carefree to panicked and desperate is wholly convincing, Brewer draws you in at every turn and keeps things grounded, particularly during a truly insane ending that is pleasingly ambiguous, yet still incredibly shocking.
However one of the most surprising aspects of Cam is how it never veers into cautionary tale territory, Goldhaber and Mazzei instead focussing on less predictable ideas within the narrative, while also treating Lola/Alice’s profession with complete respect. The realism of the webcam work these girls do – the mundanity of it and the way they use it to their advantage – is brought to brilliant life by Mazzei, herself a former webcam girl. Mazzei uses her experience to take Cam down a wholly refreshing route, exploring ideas around gender in the industry, showing how these women are ultimately in control, despite their almost exclusively male fanbase telling them what to do while they watch. Indeed, Lola/Alice often knows exactly which man to contact to get money from, and what she needs to do to keep her clients watching and thirsty for more. It is only when someone appears to have hacked her channel that she truly realises how lost she is without this control, the view from the passenger seat suddenly in stark contrast to the one behind the steering wheel.
Cam is an intriguing look at an obscure world, and one framed in a way that makes us see it through the eyes of Lola/Alice and the other women – an admirable stance which ultimately makes it so much more than a simple horror film. The conclusion isn’t exactly the rollercoaster we’re hoping for but it works, a moment that is shocking and gripping in equal measure while keeping a hint of the mystery that serves it so well throughout. Dark, engaging and full of surprising twists and turns, Goldhaber and Mazzei’s film is a brilliant genre piece that delivers a few seriously unnerving moments, and a film that feels strikingly refreshing in its execution.