Moving on up in the digital world, a camgirl is riding a high that seemingly can’t be stopped. That is until her account is hijacked by a lookalike who begins taking her glory. What appears as a glossy social commentary, CAM develops into a multilayered techno-thriller that exposes the horrors of the online arena, as well as the experience of sex workers.
Under the username “Lola_Lola”, a young woman named Alice (Madeline Brewer) climbs her way up the ranks on a camgirl site. She has her sights set on becoming number one on the site, so she does some unique, even disturbing, things in order to entice her audience to tip her more and more, thus allowing her to climb higher.
As she enters the Top 50, she finds that someone has signed into her account and begins replaying her old videos. However, she soon realizes the videos are not previously taped and are actually live, with someone who looks identical to her. As she fears someone is taking over her online persona, and with no help from authorities or the site itself, she turns to her fans for help, all the while discovering a twisted truth within the online realm.
There is a lot to unwrap from this film, as it leans heavy on the psychological twists and turns. On surface level, the film is a vibrant, hyper-stylized experience – that in itself holds a message all its own. As “Lola_Lola”, Alice’s world is lit in neon and dream-like in a way. Visually, it’s cool and inciting to the viewer – mimicking what’s drawn her to the camgirl life. Outside of her alter-ego, Alice’s life is dreary, completely different in tone or appearance. You even see it from how her cam room looks silky and feminine, and her real bedroom is essentially a mattress on the floor.
Delving into the story itself, you’ll see themes regarding digital and social media addiction, as well as the demeaning attitude towards sex workers. Alice is obsessive about her status on the cam site, to a degree that she has anxiety over not being online when she sees others on. It’s similar to our everyday obsession with uploading a new photo on Instagram, or feeling you haven’t posted in awhile. It’s that thirst for compliments, that drive for likes (or in the film “tokens”) and need for connection, even from strangers.
The film also tackles the dangers of the internet and why we shouldn’t feel completely safe. How despite Alice being very careful to protect her identity, she is still found by a fan, or as the other her gains popularity, her family. Even the overarching plot is that of having her face and body stolen – uploaded by someone she doesn’t know.
I think another important message from this film was the need to support sex workers. Although I found it to be more subtle than it should have been, there are several points in the film where Alice is demeaned for her work. Without giving away them all, there was one that stuck with me most. When she calls the police to assist her in what she believes is identity theft, one of the cops asks her extremely inappropriate questions and neither are keen to offer her any help whatsoever.
Even though it was released back in 2018, it’s a timely film to watch right now. Given the current crisis, sex workers have taken to virtual avenues to make up for the money lost. You can look at the recent storm of criticism for celebrities, like Bella Thorne, joining OnlyFans and impacting the rules and opportunities on the platform.
CAM is definitely a more cerebral story than you’d expect. Don’t expect a nice, “tied in a bow” conclusion, and instead be prepared to read into some of the deeper meanings I’ve brought up here. But I definitely want to hear what you thought about it and what message you think the film holds.
CAM is available on Netflix