Upending the typical thriller trope of the sex worker as helpless victim, “Cam” introduces us to the populous world of webcam pornography through the eyes of Alice, a.k.a. Lola (Madeline Brewer), a “camgirl” with smarts and agency.
She’ll need both when her flirty online persona and drooling fan base are stolen by an exact replica of herself. Is the imitator a real woman or some evil digital manifestation, yet another danger lurking among the microprocessors? While taking genre steps to answer that question, “Cam” also does something more interesting. Ruthlessly patrolling the border between online and offline identities, the movie makes the unspoken compact between Lola and her viewers as sacred as a holy vow. And when the pretender starts to transgress Lola’s self-imposed rules (like no public performances), her loss of image control feels even more menacing than her loss of income.
Written by Isa Mazzei, herself a former camgirl, and directed by Daniel Goldhaber, “Cam” is more successful as an oddly feminist tale of gutsy self-reliance than as a fully developed drama. Despite a strong premise and a terrific lead performance, the movie suffers visually from too many shots of screens within screens and scrolling, emoji-enhanced requests for live-streamed lewd behavior. To improve Alice’s fiercely fought-for popularity ranking, the ante must always be upped — and that means doing more than just wielding an industrial–strength vibrator.
Without wagging any fingers at Alice’s occupation, “Cam” shows instead the extreme isolation of a career where colleagues are competitors and friendships mostly financial transactions. Lying to her family and leered at by the police, Alice has no option but to fend for herself.