Fantasia Festival 2018 continues with Isa Mazzei and Daniel Goldhaber’s audacious web thriller, Cam.
Let’s bitch it out…
Cam was another one of my most anticipated films at this year’s Fantasia Festival and for good reason: not only is the film’s aesthetic eye-popping and its lead performance astounding; the concept is frighteningly relevant for life in the modern digital world.
Screenwriter Isa Mazzei and director Daniel Goldhaber have crafted a fascinating tale about the intersection of online sex work and identity theft that is both candid and relevant. Alice (Madeline Brewer) is an entrepreneurial cam girl with aspirations to break into her site’s top 50 performers. The film’s opening sequence features an in-depth glimpse of her envelope-pushing room and it’s evident from the get-go that Alice has the skills and the gumption to be a formidable businesswoman. She knows her clients, her vibe is fun and sexy and she knows how to rack up the tips like a professional.
This introduction is essential for a number of reasons: Cam is all about Alice’s drive to excel and both she and the film are unapologetic about her chosen profession – she likes her job and she wants to do it well. The lack of stigma is refreshingly pro-feminist and even when the truth about Alice’s job is revealed to her single mother and teen brother, Mazzei eschews the traditional shaming narrative for a more informed, modern take.
The opening scene also introduces the audience to this world so that we understand the lingo, the sound cues, and the competition for clients. This is continually reinforced throughout the first act as Alice plans and executes a series of innovative theme-based nights in order to break into the top 50. At various times we meet the men who frequent her rooms and they alternate between creepy and pathetic (or both); Alice, on the other hand, is a visionary who is so dedicated to her job that her cam room is the only venue in her new home that has actually been unpacked.
The film takes a dark turn shortly after Alice achieves her goal: she finally cracks top 50 and discovers shortly thereafter that she has been locked out of her account by an identical-looking doppelgänger who is caming in her place. From there the film descends into a paranoid thriller as Alice desperately tries to recover her identity and regain control of her life.
There are three elements that help Cam to stand out: in addition to the progressive script, Brewer also delivers an amazingly versatile performance. The actress, most recognizable to fans of The Handmaid’s Tale, plays at least three different interpretations of the character, including Alice when she’s caming and her less confident, less composed real life persona, as well as Alice’s digital doppelgänger, Lola. Considering the film’s less-than-savoury-to-Hollywood content and the character’s vulnerability, it’s not surprising to learn that it was a challenging role to cast, but Brewer repeatedly demonstrates her chameleonic acting ability in a no-hold’s barred performance.
The final element of note is the technical aesthetic of the film, which makes great use of computer and television screens and features a neon/bubblegum colour scheme. The former component is all the more impressive when considering the set-up required for the film’s climax, which finds Alice facing off against her virtual double Lola against a funhouse-like backdrop of endless mirrors (see the featured image at the top of the post). After hearing about the lengths that the production crew had to go to in order to pull off a convincing online doppelgänger battle during the post-film Q&A, the bloody final confrontation is all the more compelling.
The Bottom Line: Cam is a stunning feature film debut by writer Massei and director Daniel Goldhaber with a forward-thinking message, a dynamic lead performance and great technical aesthetics. Be sure to check it out when it is released by Blumhouse.