Cam: An Unsettling Look at Identity and Technology

A joint production between Blumhouse Productions and two smaller studios, Cam is the latest thriller to explore anxieties about technology and social identity. Over the past year, similarly-themed movies #FromJennifer and Tragedy Girls have found horror at the intersection between social media and our ‘Likes-obsessed’ culture. This time around, Cam takes us into the world of webcam girls with a Black Mirror-esque story of stolen identity.

Synopsis

Alice is a young webcam girl better known to her devoted followers as ‘Lola’. Each night ‘Lola’ looks for new ways to build her fanbase and crack the ‘Top 50’ ranking of Free Girls Live. She flirts with increasingly elaborate and risky shows to push her ranking up. One morning she wakes up and discovers she’s been locked out of her account. Someone who looks just like her has taken over her cam girl alter-ego. Even worse Alice’s doppelgänger is pushing her show further and further up the rankings.

Cam Is Taut, Timely Storytelling About Identity

Cam is whip-smart story-telling with a lot going on. Isa Mazzei wrote Cam along with Daniel Goldhaber and Isabelle Link-Levy. At the core of its story, Cam delves into our collective fears about stolen identity. Like a strong Black Mirror episode, the movie unsettles with its illustration of how quickly crafted online personas can be lost. Let’s face it, we put a lot of effort into our online identities on Facebook, Twitter, etc. In this regard, it isn’t just a techno-thriller about stolen identity. Mazzei and company expose how easily we can lose control of our online image. How many times have we seen reputations destroyed with one errant Tweet?

But Cam is also a more subtle psychological examination of our notions of personal identity.

But Cam is also a more subtle psychological examination of our notions of personal identity. Throughout Cam, Alice walks a tightrope between her real-world and webcam identities. Each identity places its own set of demands on her. On the hand, Alice navigates family expectations while hiding her job from her mother. Meanwhile ‘Lola’ straddles the demands of seeking ‘likes’ for social ranking with the misogynistic entitlement of her ‘fanbase’. The movie asks the question, ‘Are we the sum of the ‘Likes’ on our social media profiles?’

A Surprisingly Tense Thriller With Minimalist Set-Pieces

Director Daniel Goldhaber makes his feature picture debut on Cam, and it’s an impressive first effort. Working with a small budget, Goldhaber squeezes out maximum tension from relatively bare scenarios. Computer screenshots and the pinging sound of instant messages increasingly elicit fear as ‘Lola’ pushes boundaries. A later scene in a bathroom with one of her male fans puts you at unease. Cinematographer Katelin Arizmendi deserves a lot of credit for transforming minimalist settings into white-knuckle scenarios. In the climax, Arizmendi brilliantly captures Cam’s identity theme with a clever overlapping shot of Alice’s identities on screens.

But when Cam sets down its final path, it’s not the one you may have expected, delivering a fantastic payoff.

Yet muc uch of the tension comes courtesy of Cam’s weaving mystery. Mazzei’s story never takes the expected direction and, as a result, Cam feels fresh and innovative. Like any good mystery or noir thriller, Cam carefully intersperses hints as the story twists and turns. As webcam rivals and obsessed fans turn up, you become more and more immersed in discovering the identity of Alice’s doppelgänger. But when it sets down its final path, it’s not the one you may have expected, delivering a fantastic payoff.

Madeline Brewer Gives a Star-Making Performance

In addition to its fresh story, Cam seriously benefits from a star-making turn delivered by Madeline Brewer. Aside from small supporting characters, Brewer is left to carry the movie on her shoulders which she does with a layered performance. The complex themes around identity require Brewer to convince as a young woman torn between competing personas. As ‘Lola’, Brewer is smart and determined, succeeding in a sexist environment. Comparatively, Alice seems somewhat lost and uncertain. An unexpected bonus of Cam is its smart treatment of sex work and Alice’s satisfying character arc. To say much else, however, would spoil the movie’s ending.

Cam Works As Both Thriller and Meditative Piece on Identity

Cam is a smart thriller and a refreshing twist on the ‘technology in horror‘ narrative. This is a movie that works on multiple levels. As a strict thriller, Cam intrigues and unsettles in equal measures. But it also raises several questions that you’ll be left to ponder long after the credits have finished rolling. It’s both techno-thriller and meditative piece on identity.

THE PROFESSOR’S FINAL GRADE: A

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I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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