Samuel Murrian's picture

Review: Netflix's 'Cam' is a Creative, Genuinely Frightening Horror Flick With Insights About Porn and Sex Work

This has been a great year for horror movies. The best of the lot are A Quiet Place, Mandy and Hereditary.

Though it’s not on the same level as those, Netflix’s Cam should definitely deserves a shout-out. The debut feature of director Daniel Goldhaber and writer Isa Mazzei, Cam features a head-turning, star-making performance by The Handmaid’s Tale’s Madeline Brewer as Alice, an erotic webcam performer who goes by the screen name Lola. Alice, who’s gaining popularity, just outside of the Top 50 on a CAM4-like site as she’s hiding the job from her family and friends, is horrified to discover she’s locked out of her profile, and someone who looks and acts exactly like her has taken over.

Is this a supernatural force? Is there a logical, sinister explanation? Is Alice going insane? 

It’s a genuinely frightening idea, and this isn’t the movie’s only original idea. In addition to more than enough scares and chills to satisfy a horror fan, Cam explores the modern landscape of porn and sex work.

Cam is satirical and blunt without being overtly judgmental in regards to this kind of work. There is definitely some dark, even sad humor here. Early in the film, when Alice makes it into the top 50 cam performers on the website that hosts her, she basically gives an Oscars speech, tears, thank-yous and all.

The filmmakers and the actress also find troves of meaty drama here; this is thoughtful storytelling. Alice makes pretty damn good money for a woman her age; her foil is a friend who works an unglamorous job at a Dollar Store, but also doesn’t have a secret life she has to hide from people.

Cam is a movie about fractured identity, and it asks, among other difficult questions: is porn worth it?

The film also dives into the uneasy, inescapable power dynamic between Alice and the sugar daddies who want to cross the line between Lola and Alice, and meet her in person. It’s not that Cam is saying sex work is inherently awful and wrong, but it makes tons of valid points about the state of the industry today, and how it can absolutely make people completely lose themselves.

Brewer, seriously, gives one of the year’s best breakout film performances. She plays three (maybe four) characters here, often playing multiple versions of herself at the same time. Brilliantly. Just, wow. She should get Golden Globes and Emmys attention for this.

Endings are hard. Horror movie endings are, if anything, harder. I don’t think the finale and conclusion of Cam are 100% satisfying. The logic more or less checks out in its way, but the third act of Cam isn’t quite as strong as the gripping first two. This is a damn good little horror movie, though.

Cam is now streaming on Netflix, and playing in select theaters. It has a killer sound design, so see it on the big screen if possible.