The Missed Opportunities of Cyber-Horror Film "Cam"
Updated: Dec 15, 2018
TW: Suicide and sexual assault briefly mentioned.
Cam is an enjoyable cyber-horror movie that is also an exercise in missed potential. The movie values indie aesthetics over story and suffers for it.
The film follows Alice, a high ranking and ambitious cam girl. Known online as Lola, Alice hides her sex work from her mother Lynne (Melora Walters) and brother Jordan (Devin Druid). She works tirelessly to climb the ranks of the cam site, rising to the top 50. But just as Lola begins to find success, she is sabotaged by a nefarious doppelgänger who steals her identity and job.
Writer/director team Daniel Goldhaber and Isa Mazzei were both sex workers, with Mazzei having worked as a non-nude cam girl who experienced similar identity theft problems. Both speak about their goals for the movie as meaning to focus on camming not as the evil of the story, but as a career that happens to belong to the horror victim.
It is established early in the film that Lola is a cam girl known for her cutesy personality coupled with her affinity for impressive squibs and a flair for the dramatic. In one scene, she pretends to slice her throat in an on-camera suicide. Of course, she has not really committed suicide and after about 10 seconds, she breaks character to “come alive” again.
It seems worth exploring the relationships between a cam girl and her many customers with whom she has ongoing work relationships. And it is made clear that Lola caters to at least two men specifically, Barney (Michael Dempsey), a high-tipping regular, and Tinker (Patch Darragh), another regular turned stalker.
There is a missed chance to explore the complexities of cyber-work relationships. Lola’s online acquaintances are painted with a broad brush. Tinker and Barney are both suspects of Lola's cyber attack, but she suspects her cam-girl friends as well, adding some fun, creepy tension to the film. Although the filmmakers allege (rightfully so) that they do not want Lola's career to be the aspect of the film's horror, it still sort of is. She is not a woman to be "saved," she enjoys her career and it is her art form. But Lola also hides her career from her loved ones, gets stalked, is manipulated by her highest tippers, and gets her identity stolen. I'm aware this is a horror movie, there is more slicing than waxing poetic. Maybe I just don't get it. But as one of the first films to talk about camming with such a big platform (Netflix!) the film fails to reflect on camming in ways that shine a positive light on the community.
That leads one to view Cam as a cautionary tale warning...not to get your identity stolen. The message of the story is persevere when your identity is stolen and just recreate your image in the aftermath. Films don't have to have morals or lessons learned, but there's a frustrating lack of message in the conclusion. I love Lola's character and all that she stands for, she deserves more of a comeback than what happens to her. Because hilariously, the way Alice defeats the virus is by…deleting her account and creating a new one. New beginnings are hinted at for Lola, starting from the bottom and working her way to the top of the cam girl rankings once again.
****END OF SPOILERS****
It seems like a missed opportunity to have a conversation about the boundaries associated with online sexual relationships in a more in depth way, as both Barney and Tinker are frustratingly one dimensional characters (and neither are particularly frightening).
It seems like a missed opportunity to talk about these sexual relationships that consume so much of the porn viewer’s life. If Barney and Tinker spend all their time talking to Lola and are key figures in her journey throughout the film, so why do we know so little about them? A secondary character who spends hundreds of dollars a week on cam girls is a individual with layers to dissect. But instead the film delivers thin, poorly acted characters.
Cheesy acting hampers this movie from reaching its full potential. The puerile sound design proves an irritating experience as well, with constant pings and over the top zapping noises whenever something bad happens. Luckily, the Blade Runner inspired aesthetics the movie aims for, such as muted neon lighting and glossy set design, are very pretty.
The film is half-baked with latent potential, yet many view as an indie horror classic regardless. A film written and directed by a talented team who has direct experience in the cam industry is fantastic and I would love to see more of the directors' work. Unfortunately, you can’t judge a movie by what it could be, you have to evaluate based on what exists. And what exists in Lola's camming story is a missed opportunity for a new sub-genre of horror based around the uncertainty of online identity.