CAM (October 14th)
YOU'VE GOT RED ON YOU TAKES PART IN THE 31 DAYS OF HALLOWEEN CHALLENGE; WATCHING ONE HORROR MOVIE A DAY THROUGHOUT OCTOBER. SOME OF THEM OLD, SOME OF THEM NEW, SOME OF THEM HAVE JUST BEEN ON OUR SHELVES FOR YEARS GATHERING DUST, STILL IN CELLOPHANE...
I was going to do an opening gambit about how porn has changed over the years and how technology has meant that gone are the days of it being all dirty magazines and grimy VHS tapes. Nowadays we have websites and live cameras and all the stuff. But I decided not to because it makes me sound a bit scuzzy and old. Oh hang on, I kinda just did. Sex workers have been portrayed in genre films for years now and quite often find themselves on the receiving end of a lot of horrid stuff (no pun intended). You can go back to films such as From Hell and American Psycho to see examples of this type of thing but attitudes are changing and the people who operate in this industry are beginning to not only (rightfully) be humanised more, but are also taking centre stage too. Camgirls are now a thing too, where girls live stream thems...oh you know what it's all about. Anyway, there has already been a film centred on a set of girls living in this world – called Girlhouse (2014). It's perfectly fine but there is another movie about camgirls that has garnered more attention – Daniel Goldhaber's Cam (2018).
In Cam, we follow a young beautiful woman called Alice (played by the brilliant Madeline Brewer) who works as a camgirl for a website called FreeGirlsLive. From her studio she broadcasts a variety of sexually promiscuous performances and is locked in a battle with rival camgirls to climb the rankings and reach the top 50 (ratings are based on viewers and money spent). Although she keeps her line of work secret from her family and friends (although her younger brother is in the know and oddly supportive), she seems to enjoy her lifestyle. Sure there is the odd weirdo to deal with but she can block them at least. That is until they start to turn up in her real life. Yep, one of them shows up in the supermarket as she's shopping and Alice decides to ignore his subsequent calls (both audio and video). But then things start to get really weird. One night tries to log into her FGL account but finds she is locked out. She then notices that someone else is streaming on her channel. Someone that is identical to her in both appearance and mannerisms. Alice manages to log into the system as a guest to see if she can interact with this doppelganger – or if she is indeed just watching an old repeated video of herself. But after the alternate Alice responds to her messages in real time, it becomes clear that something really screwed up is going on...
One of the writers of Cam, Isa Mazzei, actually used to be a camgirl and much of the story is drawn from her own personal experience – which makes the movie a particularly interesting and fascinating watch. It's a bit of an eye opener and very few of us have lived in this world and therefore it doesn't feel quite as salacious as it could in different hands, it feels honest and provides some sense of grounding. I can assure you, if I wrote a film on this subject, it would be a fantastically crap mess.
Cam is a visually arresting movie, full of bright neon lights and beautiful women. However it is very much a horror movie and for long periods the film manages to stoke up a real sense of tension and mystery – and plain uncomfortableness. Without giving away the twist, this is not (as per Girlhouse) a standard stalk'n'slash movie about an obsessive 'fan'. The horror is a bit more practical and subtle than that. Getting locked out of your accounts and having that identity that you've carefully curated over the years be wrecked by an unknown assailant is a very real and terrifying prospect for most of us – and it's here where Cam is able to connect with almost everyone. It may masquerade as a sexual horror but it's really more of a techno horror. And it's a pretty darn good one at that. Madeline Brewer is unrecognisable from her role in The Handmaid's Tale and plays a character who, despite seemingly having rather 'surface' aspirations, is an easy character to root for. It's also great to see that the underlying theme of 'let's demonise the non-virgin' is nowhere to be seen either. In fact, by the end, it's anything but.
Some will recoil at the ambiguity of Cam. It is a film that spends a lot of time building up the mystery and although we get answers, they're not necessarily very clear. But I think if we learn any more than we do, it'd harm it on the whole. Netflix have produced a number of 'meh' horrors but this isn't one of them. It's fast, it's gripping and it's a bit of a feminist triumph.