Netflix’s Latest Offering Explores Sexual Politics in the Internet Age

   ‘Cam’ is a new horror film on Netflix, written by Isa Mazzei, directed by Daniel Goldhaber, and starring Madeline Brewer.  It is presented by Divide/Conquer, Blumhouse, and Gunpowder & Sky. 

     This film is told from the point of view of a camgirl, Alice/”Lola”.  For those unfamiliar, a camgirl is a model who posts photos or live interactive videos of herself, often doing requested acts for cash.  Sometimes a camgirl acts in an escort capacity, where she stays clothed and just talks to her clients.  In fact, there is at least one model in this movie who chooses to stay “non-nude.”  Our protagonist, however, is definitely in the former group, and this film does not shy away from the fact that she is a sex worker.

     What is refreshing about this story is that we are not given a story about how she has to raise her four kids as a single mom in a poor economy.  She is not a student struggling through med school.  While we are not given a background about what got her in to being a camgirl in the first place, it is clear that it was a conscious choice.  Without an external motivating factor, this film makes it clear that this is a job that she has chosen, one that she enjoys, and one that she excels at.

     She is extremely ambitious, and clearly a very hard worker.   She keeps track of all of her shows, and is trying her hardest to climb into the top spots on the site that she works for.  She is very in control of her world.  She has rules that she follows when it comes to meeting up with these men, and also rules that she follows for the clients viewing her webcasts.

     While she has not told her mother what she is doing, it is not for fear of judgement.  She is open with her brother about her career, and is waiting on telling her mom until she climbs higher up the ladder.  What is interesting about this is that in stories about sex workers we are often shown that they are ashamed to discuss what they do with their family.  Here, she wasn’t ashamed.  Her brother knew and thought it was great – until his friends started spreading rumours that she was a porn star.  Once that stigma had been attached to it, he no longer wanted any part of knowing about it because of how it effected him.

     While this movie is clearly about how we interact with each other, and about how men view women, there is another message in here that stops this from becoming a paint-by-numbers story about the stigma that follows sex workers.

     As the film progresses, she continues to climb and she breaks the top 50, only to wake up the next morning locked out of her account.  Someone has stolen all of her hard work, and a look-a-like is performing.  Calling the police, she is essentially reporting identity theft, and is brushed off.  The vibe is very much, “Well, you asked for it,” a message delivered all too often to victims, and it is infuriating to watch.

     “Lola” is also a girl who can handle herself.  She has rules about meets and is very careful.  She comes to one sketchy meeting armed with a taser.  There is an individual who is essentially stalking her.  He claims to have gotten a job nearby, but crops up while she is shopping as well as her mother’s place of work.  Another man confronts her, thinking that she is scamming him, and demands that they “have a little fun” to make it worth the trip.  None of these incidents are reported to the police, and I can only guess how they would help her based on how they react to her report of identity theft.

     She is furious, but not because she objects to how her doppelganger performs.  She is furious because she put in all of that hard work to move up through hundreds of thousands of other models, only to have that hard work ripped away.  She is furious that someone else is reaping the reward for all of her efforts.

     Identity on the internet is something that isn’t often discussed in movies.  Horror in particular has explored technology, mostly its implications to how we communicate and perceive news and reality.  But this is something different.  This movie shows how we portray ourselves online, and how we re-invent ourselves in our profiles.  There is a certain narcissism as well as sense of self-worth that can be tied in to online personalities, and exploring it through the lens of someone who is already considered on the societal fringes both on and off line is very intriguing.

     Cam is a refreshing change of pace, a whirlwind of psychedelic energy that pushes boundaries and redefines how a movie audience will view the sex trade.  Check it out if you like your tech horror with a side of social commentary!

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