Film Review: Cam'Cam'’t quite get there.
Identity theft takes a particularly invasive form in Daniel Goldhaber’s debut feature Cam, screening at Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival. The victim is Alice (Madeline Brewer), and what’s stolen is not a social security number or credit card information, but literally her entire being—body, voice, mannerisms—replicated online for a group of loyal admirers willing to pay for her digital attentions.
Alice—aka “Lola”—is a cam girl, someone who (short version) streams video online to men willing to pay for the privilege of watching. It’s a 21st century form of sex work that relies as much on sexual titillation as it does the same sort of fiction Instagram and YouTube, with their massive influencer economies, sell: That you, too, can have a real, or “real” connection, with a complete stranger online.
The lines of reality get real blurry when Alice one day discovers that a virtual doppelganger has set up shop on her feed, locking her out of her account and essentially taking over her online persona. This Fauxla (sorry) looks like her, talks like her, acts like her, and—salt in the wound for an increasingly horrified Alice—is more successful at climbing up the cam girl rankings than she ever was. The algorithm has taken Alice’s persona—a certain tomboyish charm, a sick sense of humor, an friendliness coupled with an unwillingness to BS—and perfected it. The human element is no longer needed.
It’s an intriguing premise, particularly as what’s presented to us as “real” is increasingly filtered through a net of ones and zeros. (Hiya there, Facebook.) And aside from Cam’s social commentary, it’s just plain creepy. How can Alice fight back against someone who’s not real? Who might not even be self-aware?
Unfortunately, a solid premise can only carry a film so far, and Goldhaber fails to deliver on Cam’s potential. As Alice investigates what, exactly, is behind her digital double and how she can stop it/her, she uncovers several intriguing threads that, by the end of the film, are still there dangling in the wind. Individual moments are affecting, like Alice’s family reacting to what she does, and Brewer’s performance, increasingly panicked yet still determined, is superior to the film she’s in. Unfortunately, that film is something of a cop-out.