New Thriller Is Like Black Mirror for Cam Girls
In the new thriller Camera, which premieres simultaneously upon Netflix and in theaters upon Friday, pretty much everything that camera girl Alice (The Handmaid’ s Tale’ s Madeline Brewer) fears might happen does. What surprises, even though, is the specificity of her fears. Alice is frightened, of course , that her mommy, younger brother, and the rest of their small town in New Mexico will discover her night job. And she’ s probably not alone in her worries that a buyer or two will breach the substantial but understandably imperfect wall that she has designed between her professional and private lives. But most of her days are spent worrying about the details of her work: Does her work push enough boundaries? Which usually patrons should she develop relationships with— and at which others’ expense? Can she ever be online enough to crack her site’ s Top 50?
Alice is a sex worker, with all the attendant dangers and occasional humiliations— which moody, neon-lit film under no circumstances shies away from that fact. But Alice is also a great artist. In front of the camera, she’ s a convincing occasional actress and improviser as the sweet but fanciful “ Lola. ” Behind it, she’ s a writer, a home, and a set designer. (Decorated with oversize blooms and teddy bears, the spare bedroom that she uses as her set appears to be themed Barbie After Hours. ) So when the unimaginable happens— Alice’ s account is hacked, and a doppelgä nger starts performing her act, with less creativity but more popularity— her indignation is ours, too.
The film finds stakes— and a resolution— whose freshness is hard to understate.
But Cam takes its period getting to that mystery. That’ s more than fine, because the film, written by former webcam model Isa Mazzei and first-time director Daniel Goldhaber, immerses us inside the dual economies of love-making work and online focus. The slow reveal of the day-to-day realities of cam-girling is the movie’ s serious striptease— all of it surrounded by an aura of authenticity. (Small-bladdered Alice, for example , constantly apologizes to her arabianchicks clients for the frequency of her bathroom visits. ) And though Alice denies that her chosen career has anything to do with a personal sense of female empowerment, the film assumes an unspoken but unmissable feminist consideration of sex work. The disjunct between Alice’ s appearing to be regularness and Lola’ ersus over-the-top performances— sometimes affecting blood capsules— is the idea of the iceberg. More exciting is the sense of security and control that webcam-modeling allows— and how illusory that can become when individual entitlement gets unleashed from social niceties.
If the first half of Cam is pleasantly episodic and purringly tense, the latter half— in which Alice searches for her hacker— is clever, original, and wonderfully evocative. A form of Black Mirror for cam girls, its frights happen to be limited to this tiny cut of the web, but believe it or not resonant for that. We see Alice strive to maintain a certain standard of creative rawness, while she’ s pressured by machine in front of her for being something of an automaton very little. And versions of the landscape where a desperate Alice message or calls the cops for help with the hack, only to come to be faced with confusion about the internet and suspicion about her job, have doubtlessly played out out countless times in past times two decades. At the intersection of your industry that didn’ t exist a decade ago and an ageless trade that’ h seldom portrayed candidly in popular culture, the film finds stakes— and a resolution— whose freshness is hard to understate.
The wonderfully versatile Machine, who’ s in virtually every scene, pulls off essentially three “ characters”: Alice, Alice as Lola, and Bizarro Lola. It’ s i9000 a bravura performance that flits between several facts while keeping the film grounded as the plot changes make narrative leap following narrative leap. Cam’ t villain perhaps represents extra an admirable provocation compared to a satisfying answer. But with such naked ambition on display, who also could turn away