New Thriller Is Like Dark Mirror for Cam Girls
In the new thriller Camera, which premieres simultaneously in Netflix and in theaters on Friday, pretty much everything that camshaft girl Alice (The Handmaid’ s Tale’ s Madeline Brewer) fears might happen does. What surprises, though, is the specificity of her fears. Alice is worried, 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 client or two will breach the substantial but understandably imperfect wall that she has built between her professional and personal lives. But most of her days are spent fretting about the details of her work: Does her work push enough boundaries? Which usually patrons should she enhance relationships with— and at which usually others’ expense? Can your woman ever be online enough to crack her site’ s Top 50?
Alice is a intimacy worker, with all the attendant dangers and occasional humiliations— which moody, neon-lit film under no circumstances shies away from that simple fact. But Alice is also a great artist. In front of the camera, she’ s a convincing celebrity and improviser as the sweet but fanciful “ Lola. ” Behind it, she’ s a writer, a movie director, and a set custom made. (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 usually hacked, and a doppelgä nger starts performing her act, with less appearance but more popularity— her indignation is ours, too.
The film finds stakes— and a resolution— whose freshness is not easy to understate.
But Cam takes its period getting to that mystery. That’ s more than fine, while the film, written by former webcam model Isa Mazzei and first-time director Daniel Goldhaber, immerses us inside the dual economies of intimacy work and online attention. The slow reveal on the day-to-day realities of cam-girling is the movie’ s genuine striptease— all of it surrounded by a great aura of authenticity. (Small-bladdered Alice, for example , constantly apologizes to her clients for the frequency of her bathroom visits. ) And though Alice denies that her selected career has anything to do with a personal sense of female empowerment, the film assumes an unspoken although unmissable feminist consideration of sex work. The disjunct between Alice’ s appearing to be regularness and Lola’ h over-the-top performances— sometimes involving blood capsules— is the idea of the iceberg. More interesting is the sense of protection and control that webcam-modeling allows— and how illusory that can become when natural male entitlement gets unleashed via social niceties.
If the first half of Camshaft is pleasantly episodic and purringly tense, the latter half— in which Alice searches for her hacker— is clever, imaginative, and wonderfully evocative. A form of Black Mirror for camera girls, its frights happen to be limited to this tiny cut of the web, but no less resonant for that. We see Alice strive to maintain a certain standard of creative rawness, even while she’ s pressured by the machine in front of her to become something of an automaton their self. And versions of the landscape where a desperate Alice message or calls the cops for aid in the hack, only to become faced with confusion about the net and suspicion about her job, have doubtlessly played out out countless times in past times two decades. At the intersection of industry that didn’ t exist a decade ago and a great ageless trade that’ s seldom portrayed candidly in popular culture, the film finds stakes— and a resolution— whose freshness is hard to understate.
The wonderfully versatile Coffee maker, who’ s in just about any scene, pulls off essentially three “ characters”: Alice, Alice as Lola, and Bizarro Lola. It’ s i9000 a bravura performance that flits between several realities while keeping the film grounded as the plot twists make narrative leap following narrative leap. Cam’ s villain perhaps represents considerably more an admirable provocation when prorn compared to a satisfying answer. But with many of these naked ambition on display, whom could turn away