This review contains mild spoilers
Back in the less woke days of 2009, the term “fraping” referred to someone commandeering someone else’s Facebook account to post something embarrassing. In 2018, Blumhouse’s latest effort Cam takes a similar idea, amplifies it with up to date concerns over online security, then applies it to the cam girl industry. For our more innocent readers, that’s where web-chat and porn meet. The result is a decent cyber-thriller that fails to integrate its premise with a modern twist on a classic supernatural story.
It’s dissapointing, because the initial setup’s quite exciting. Director Goldhaber is also very accomplished, with has a knack for generating tension that’s present from the delightfully twisted opening scene. The way he generates a sense of escalating paranoia, in a story that’s mostly advanced through Alice looking at words on a screen, is admirable. As is the lack of jump scares, with the fear mostly taking the form of personal failure and exposure. In short, cam girl Alice aka Lola, really wants to climb the league, to be among the top 50 girls on her site. Although the movie is refreshingly positive in how it deals with the scene, its implied she wants this so she can feel respectable. And that maybe it’d validate what she does in the eyes of her mother, who thinks she works in I.T. Fortunately, things seem to be going that way for her until her account gets hacked – by someone who seemingly talks, acts and looks just like her. Is it an obsessive rival? Or an outwards manifestation of her own obsession with success in the field?
Throughout, I was approaching this movie as a riddle, with a conspiracy at its heart. For instance, for much of the second act I figure it would be Alice’s old friend behind it – who’s defining characteristic is her shame of a menial job. I thought she’d had plastic surgery to look like her, and take what she saw as a glamorous life. Now it wouldn’t have been good, but could have functioned as a commentary on the way the internet allows people to present their best life. Unfortunately, the third act doesn’t go down this human angle, instead introducing a literal ghost in the machine. Often, supernatural horror movies lose their way towards the end, when the writer needs to a) define the nature of their threat, and b) find a technicality/ rule by which it can be defeated. Cam is no exception, with a final act that sort of works on a thematic level, by addressing self-acceptance and a runaway persona (even if the message itself gets muddled). Although on a literal level it is fairly unsatisfying, with a poorly conceived villain who has both a vague motivation and end game.
To be clear, there’s a lot to like here. Even if the way the situation gets explained away leaves much to be desired, the impossible problem itself is a lot of fun. Moreover, what separates it from other online-horrors is the script penned by Isa Mazzei, a former cam girl, has an underlying authenticity akin to a documentary. Some of the insights into the cam-girl industry, including the tension between public and private personas plus the requests of her more peculiar cliental, are fascinating. As is the way that Alice manipulates the token system to work her way up the league. This insecurity about her ranking, and the need for validation following the approval of anonymous others, is very relatable. Seeing her briefly help her dopplegänger, whose stolen her life, ascend the table is as good an illustration of status anxiety as any I’ve seen. Elsewhere, her relationship with her mum, where she worries about how she’d judge her life choice, is also an exaggerated version of something familiar even if the specifics are not. It’s during these character-driven moments Brewer is at her best (to be fair, she does a grand job depicting three versions of the same role): an engaging, and flawed, protagonist.
Once again, Blumhouse have done a very contemporary horror, on a modest budget, that shines a light on identity, misogyny and comparison culture. Yet as seems to happen all too often, its delivery does its premise a disservice, making for a clunky third act that undermines the careful build up. You could say it’s almost like someone took over Isa Mazzei’s laptop, then started typing something silly.