Admittedly I don’t know as much about the cam girl world as I do about instagram (due to my hours of daily research spent scrolling the unending feed of images and ads), but I found this movie deeply relatable on a terrifying front: the internet persona and the endlessness of escalating content. Cam is chillingly reflective of the digital world we live in where identity is tied to self promotion and social media exists to advertise carefully curated versions of ourselves.
In the film — freshly up on Netflix! — Alice, alias lola_lola (played by Madeline Brewer) is a cam girl gunning for the top slot in her “free live girls” community. She works hard to establish her fans — talks to them by name, knows details about their lives, even meets up with them in person in certain cases — but in order to consistently gain new followers she has to continually up the ante of her performative live streams. The opening scene finds her playing out a game in which she teases her online community with a slowly escalating argument that ends in her “slicing” her throat on camera. The amount of work she puts into this performance is not so different from the instagram and youtube videos where influencers act out scenes from old movies or sfx makeup bloggers recreate gory death tableaux.
Determined to move from her place in the top 50s to the number 1 spot, Alice has to plot different ways to keep her audience’s attention and offer them new thrills, new experiences, and new reasons to keep coming back — she has to push her own boundaries in order to satisfy the constantly growing appetites of her fans. After a particularly boundary-pushing live-stream, Alice wakes up the next morning to find that there is a duplicate of her creating content on her channel. She has no way of telling her fans that her persona has been co-opted and they either can’t tell or don’t care that the new lola_lola’s content goes far beyond what Alice would ever consider.
Beyond the existential terror Alice navigates as she watches her duplicate self actively twisting her carefully crafted persona, there is also the question of what is this thing that is taking over her life — is it organic, alien, digital? Is it even possible to track and fight it? What happens when your friends, family, and fans think your online persona is your true self? The multitude of implications reaches far past the cam girl world and travels deep down into my soul.
Cam offers a reflection both on content creators and content consumers and makes a solid case for considering where your content comes from — overtly in the pornography world, but across the board in online content, suggesting that perhaps we should consider where the lines between real and fake lie and what happens if we stop caring about that critical boundary.
The similarities to instagram influencers are glaring but by adding in the sex work of the cam girl, the film commentary transcends the mindless scrolling of social media and pushes into reflection of our identities and sexualities. I attribute this delicate balance between fun and horrifying to the screenplay — which is unsurprisingly written by a woman. Writer Isa Mazzei was a former cam girl so this film very much comes from a place of experience. Sex work is a big element in Cam but it never feels plot-pointy or exploitive, instead it reflects the complicated nature of the cycle of supply, demand, and gratification. Alice is not some throw-away sexy character brought in to titillate — she is a smart, clever, creative character with many dimensions. To his credit as well, director Daniel Goldhaber does a great job of transforming Mazzei’s words without objectification of our female lead.
I love that Cam examines these deeply existential ideas in the cutesy world of Alice’s cam content. It’s full of poppy colors and flashy performances that pull you in to this fabricated world. Watching on your computer or streaming on TV, you become just another fan waiting for the next thrill, the next escalation that will heighten your viewing enjoyment. The film is in self-reflexive dialogue with itself and you — the Netflix browser/ content devourer — are simply collateral in the blurring lines of reality and fiction.