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CAM (Movie Review)

CAM (Movie Review)
7 10

PLOT: A successful web cam girl's life begins to unravel when it appears the character she plays for her patrons starts performing on her own.

REVIEW: The fascinating and lurid world of cam girls - young women who perform flirty, sometimes salacious acts in front of their webcams for an audience of money-waving men - gets the thriller it deserves in the form of CAM, a moody, Black Mirror-esque exploration of said world and the dangerous consequences within it. Yes, it eventually veers into supernatural territory, but even before the surreality is jacked up, Daniel Goldhaber's film is creepy and absorbing, an intimate look at a lifestyle that parodies intimacy. A prostitute is always in danger when she gets into a car or hotel room with a stranger, but cam girls have the freedom of feeling safe, removed by hundreds of miles from their clients and in charge of their own bodies (for all intents and purposes). Technology still brings them close together, however, and there's something unnerving about the give-and-take of the cam girl/anonymous paying customer relationship. It's about as robotic and unsexy as you can get.

Not unlike traditional sex workers, cam girls have to be damn good actresses to sell themselves, and CAM's protagonist - a bright 20-something named Alice (aka "Lola"), is damn good. Lola is a chipper, boundary-pushing vixen who obsesses over her ranking on her site and innocently begs for tips while utilizing a vast array of props and make-up for her perverted audience. An early act sees her pretend to commit suicide by slashing her throat, which the crowd apparently loves. For the real Alice, these acts aren't so much troubling as they are strangely exhilarating and, not unlike "Lola", Alice is quite concerned about moving up the ranks of her fellow cam girls. If the job bothers Alice on a deep level, she doesn't show it, although naturally she has not told her mom or most of her regular friends what she does for a living. But she is making a lot of money, and even though Alice doesn't seem to be particularly greedy or materialistic, she's undoubtedly enjoying the ability to buy pay for a new mattress, rent a new house, and so on. Admirably, the movie doesn't paint Alice as either victim or manipulator; it makes no excuses for her but it does portray her as a flesh-and-blood individual navigating a crude landscape to the best of her abilities. 

While the dangers of the profession lurk around the edges of Alice's existence - one of her most fierce admirers has located her and moved into her town - Alice's content life is upended when "Lola" shows up and starts doing acts on her own. That is to say, Alice watches as Lola performs some new routines, things she most certainly has not done. Initially thinking it's a glitch or someone has hacked her account, Alice begins to realize, to her astonishment and horror, that somehow Lola has become her own entity, existing only on the computer screen. Thanks to her job, no one takes Alice seriously, and as Lola's popularity goes up, Alice's sanity unravels.

Because Goldhaber and screenwriter Isa Mazzei have already deftly created a believable reality for Alice, and given us satisfying insight into her as a person, this twist is as creepy as it is compelling. Certainly, there's always going to be something terrifying about not being in control of your own body, or in this case, your own image. CAM puts its finger firmly on the notion that our online selves are almost as real as our actual personas, so what if your online profile started calling its own shots? Furthermore, most of us can relate to the fears of having our identity stolen, especially when we dutifully give our information to the internet all the time, and CAM plays into that fear handily, wrapping it up in Twilight Zone-y packaging. But without a strong lead it might all be for naught, and thankfully CAM has a very good one in Madeline Brewer. Brewer ably sells the kittenish Lola and the increasingly troubled Alice; two very different performances, both terrific. (Actually, one could argue it's three performances: Alice, Lola and Alice-performing-Lola.) Brewer is in practically every single frame of the movie, and her intense commitment to all of her roles is rewarding, to say the least.   

The movie stumbles just a bit in its finale, which lacks the considerable tension that permeates most of the running time. Perhaps no explanation for the events would be satisfying, and indeed there's some ambiguity as to what actually happens, but CAM's final ten minutes or so are a bit of an abstract muddle. A slight shame, but not a deal-breaker; CAM has enough evocative atmosphere to succeed in getting under your skin, and Brewer's superb performance ensures this techno thriller won't easily be forgotten. 

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