Isa Mazzei, a former camgirl, was tired of films that depicted sex workers as disposable and unworthy of empathy. So she teamed up with director Daniel Goldhaber and modern horror juggernaut Blumhouse Productions to create Cam—a film that manages to be both a vibrant techno thriller that champions its sex-worker protagonist and an examination of the real-world consequences of doing sex work in a whorephobic society.
Cam follows Alice (Madeline Brewer), aka Lola, a camgirl trying to climb her way up the rankings of FreeGirlsLive.com by acting out extreme scenarios for shock value. Lola gets a following by threatening to slit her throat live—resulting in nonstop chat messages from worried fans and digital currency “tips” from viewers doubting she has the guts to do it. Then she does—only to get back up, smile into the camera, and tear away the fake blood- covered prosthetic on her neck.
But just when it seems that Alice is getting on track with her life—she’s broken into the top 50 users, she has enough disposable income to buy herself a lavish $4,000 couch—it all comes crumbling down when she gets locked out of her account and replaced by an exact replica of herself.
Alice no longer has access to her earnings or her clients—and she’s forced to watch like a voyeuristic masochist as her dopplegänger rises to fame. Lola Two uses a set that’s almost identical to Lola’s, and she, too, likes to raise the stakes. Alice starts tipping to see how far Lola Two will go. Lola Two pulls out a gun, licks it teasingly, loads it, then puts it in her mouth and shoots herself—leaving her pink set covered in blood and brains and obliterating Alice’s sanity. And then Lola Two pops back up with a sickly smile and celebrates that she’s just broken into the top 20 girls on FreeGirlsLive.
While Lola Two is framed as Alice’s nemesis, she is far from the film’s villain. At every turn, Alice’s concerns aren’t taken seriously because she’s a sex worker. The tech support worker from FreeGirlsLive doesn’t believe Alice was hacked—even when she’s on the phone with him while Lola Two is streaming live. Alice’s mother says she doesn’t care that Alice is a sex worker—but she never actually listens when Alice tries to explain what’s gone wrong. When Alice calls the police, the officers write off her allegations of identity theft as unimportant and instead ask invasive and irrelevant questions about her work.
The only way Alice can regain her autonomy is to fight for it herself. None of the people in her life, not even those sworn to protect her, are willing to step in and help because they view her as “less than.” But she isn’t less than because she’s a sex worker, and she knows it, as do the filmmakers. She’s a fully fledged character with aspirations and motivations that just happen to revolve around a profession that is regularly scorned, criminalized, and embedded in an institutionalized system of violence that often results in death.
Cam is a film that does not rely solely on its ideologies. It is a horror film first and foremost—one that is just as torturous to sit through as it is aesthetically appealing, with the majority of the shots drenched in neon light. The audience is forced to watch Lola Two along with Alice—unsure of how far Lola Two will go or how much Alice can stand, but unable to look away because the online performance is so dazzling. Cam is a fresh addition to an already great year for women in horror—from Revenge to Hereditary to Suspiria to Annihilation and Halloween.
Horror, at its best, reconstructs the formula of the genre and reflects what frightens us in a particular moment. Simply put, Cam is about the terror of getting locked out of your online accounts and losing your manufactured identity. By making a sex worker its protagonist, Cam is able to turn some of the most tired horror tropes—like the demonization of non-virgins or the brutal treatment of women for shock value—on their heads. It’s a film that challenges the politics of the genre while still embodying what makes horror great by channeling our collective fear of losing ourselves online. v