This is a spoiler-free review of Netflix’s CAM.
Time to crack open the sparkling wine, pull on some comfy sweats, and fear for your safety in a male-dominated world. It’s ladies night—and we need to talk about Netflix’s CAM.
Set in the cyber space of virtual sex work, CAM chronicles the nightmarish ordeal of Alice, an internet model or “cam girl,” who one day logs on to discover she has been replaced by a mysterious doppelgänger. As her many fans obsess over the menacing substitute, Alice fights to regain control of her image, freedom, and physical safety.
The brainchild of Blumhouse Productions and Netflix (with numerous other studios also involved), this psychological thriller is the product of 2018’s horror resurgence colliding head-on with fourth-wave feminism.
Sure, it isn’t the genre’s first take on women’s lib, but it is the latest and greatest.
Check out the trailer:
More than a disturbingly sexy Unfriended, CAM uses its adult setting to indirectly address feminist themes and motifs in a way that is not only nuanced, but also highly effective.
Let’s break just a few of them down.
First, as revealed by the nauseating throat slitting gag in the trailer, CAM spotlights the frightening market demand for erotic content that glorifies violence towards women. Even before the horror commences, Alice must navigate and command control over a space that actively seeks to fetishize her fear of physical harm. It is an uncomfortable reality too many women regularly disregard or internalize and is more than a little refreshing to see addressed on screen.
Brewer’s portrait of complicated female sexuality is one in which many women will see themselves.
From that complicated tightrope walk, Madeline Brewer’s portrayal of Alice takes flight. Far from her role as Janine in The Handmaid’s Tale, but unfortunately with just as much suffering, Brewer’s portrait of complicated female sexuality is one in which many women will see themselves.
Alice is at once sex-positive and realistic about her industry’s demands, manipulating her anonymous audience almost as much as they seek to manipulate her. She is an unapologetic, ambitious flirt taking control of a space in which she could be easily victimized.
While Brewer’s performance is captivating, it is far from pandering or dehumanizing and those who seek to misread it will struggle to not “read the room.” Alice is smart, capable, and the clear hero of her own story.
But, as the horror genre is wont to do, that real woman quickly loses agency. The film’s big hook, coming in the form of Alice’s double, is a metaphor for the lack of control many women feel over their own bodies on and offline. What begins as a consensual encounter quickly devolves into a visceral, psychological assault. Sprinkle in a big helping of men not believing a woman’s claims in the second act and you’ve got one of 2018’s better feminist allegories.
Who created such a masterful, layered work of horror about a cam girl? A woman who lived it.
No, writer Isa Mazzei wasn’t terrorized by her spitting image, but she did face many of these real-world nightmares during her time as a webcam performer.
“I really wanted an audience to feel what it was like to be in it,” Mazzei says an in-depth interview with Vice. “I felt like often, for people that I talk to about camming, no matter how much I would explain it or show it to them, they still didn’t fully get it. And so I think the genre is an incredible way to bring an audience inside of a character, or inside of an experience.”
Mazzei’s theory about horror’s engrossing nature is spot-on. CAM will suck you in, chew you up, and spit you out. But, be warned: once you hit play, you’ll need plenty of time post-credits to do your own digesting.
CAM is streaming on Netflix now.