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Fantastic Fest 2018: “Cam” Review

Fantastic Fest 2018 is in full swing and we’re watching as many movies as we can. One of those films is “Cam.”
Photo credit: A. Hendricks

Let’s talk about prejudice for a second. Specifically, labeling certain creators and studios as inherently second class in creating entertainment. I’m talking about Blumhouse. Blumhouse is a top player in the horror game: the good, the bad, and the ugly of it. For every “Get Out” or “The Purge,” there’s a “Ouija” and a “Truth or Dare.” Horror has become a genre buried in cheap tricks and tired tropes, and Blumhouse shells it out to the adoration of casual horror fans and to the groans of haughty individuals like me, who seek a more sophisticated spook. So, when I sat for my screening of “Cam,” I already had thoughts of “Truth or Dare” and “Unfriended” dancing in my head.

In movies, as in life, it’s important to acknowledge and move past your prejudices. Films like “Cam” make it easy. “Cam” is enjoyable and timely and has redeemed the House of Blumhouse, for now.

In “Cam” a young camgirl discovers, to her horror, that she has been locked out of her account. To make matters worse, her account has been taken over by an exact replica of herself.

The film is helmed by director Daniel Goldhaber and is written by Isa Mazzei. Madeline Brewer (“Orange is the New Black,” “Hemlock Grove,” “The Handmaid’s Tale”) stars in the film, delivering a sincere and charming performance. Other notable cast members include Melora Walters and Devin Druid. “Cam” enjoyed a successful debut at the Fantasia International Film Festival, winning awards for Best First Film and Best Screenplay. The film has been acquired for distribution by Netflix.

Photo credit: A. Hendricks

What a refreshing and watchable film!

A word hovers in the forefront of my thinking, as I ponder this film: simulacrum. Simulacrum is an image or representation of someone or something. (“Simulacra” is also the name of a damn good video game that includes a horror story not dissimilar to the one being discussed in this review.)

We live in an age of technological dependence as well as technological anxiety. Our information is sold to companies. Our phones listen to us. Our personal and professional identities hang in an ever-shifting web of technological platforms and codes of conduct. The idea of an impostor being able to slip in and render us defenseless is a real horror. We’re in a brave new world of “revenge porn” legislation. The Internet is the last true “Wild West,” and that’s horrifying.

“Cam” perfectly plays to these fears and anxieties with a grounded realism that makes the experience all the more uncomfortable to watch. “Cam” is savvy to its setting and its audience. Often, I am incredibly critical of films that try too hard to represent modern technology. More times than not the ideas don’t translate to film and it leads to unnatural interactions. But “Cam” knows exactly how the Internet works. Knows exactly the world it lives in…and the distinction between an online existence versus the people we are when we walk away from the screen.

Photo credit: A. Hendricks

The use of technology in “Cam” is seamless and flows naturally; it is neither clunky nor distracting. Well done.

The masterful use of technology as a backdrop, however, would be nothing without good old fashioned storytelling. “Cam” spins a fantastic yarn on a foundation of well-written characters and a solid mystery.

One of the highest praises I can give a film is that it leaves me wishing for 20 more minutes of footage. At first, I wanted to be dissatisfied with the ending of “Cam.” But, upon reflection, I realized I was blaming a job well done on intentional uncertainty for the fact that I’m a demanding filmgoer that wanted answers. That’s a good feeling.

It’s good to be so invested that an ending leaves you begging for more. Good stories are the ones you wish would go on forever. Again, well done.

Madeline Brewer brings home the gold with an absolutely spectacular performance. She is so goddamn likable, both in her sex kitten persona and “IRL.” You can’t help but like her, you can’t help but root for her, and you can’t help but share her fears. Brewer absolutely made the film for me.

It is worthy to note that the most important conversation in “Cam” is not the conversation of identity in the age of technology (though that discussion does take center stage). “Cam” is remarkably sex-positive and, in film, that is important. “Cam” has already been praised as one of the only films about sex workers that was actually written by a former sex worker. I could go down a whole rabbit hole of media criticism on the stigma behind sex work and how it is framed in our art, media, and culture. But, I will spare you the spiral into a rant and leave you with this thought: having sex work portrayed as a real job, and having a sex worker establish her own power and boundaries, and having a sex worker be a totally independent actor, and having a parent react in surprise but not shame, that is the most important message of “Cam.”

My verdict? See “Cam.” It’s an ambitious film that is doing better for horror. It’s horror for the younger crowd, without leaning heavily on what’s old and tired in the genre. Rearrange your calendar and claw tooth and nail to see this one at the Fest.

“Cam” goes “live” at Fantastic Fest on:

  • Wednesday, September 26 at 11:50 PM

Stay tuned for more Fantastic Fest coverage on Shuffle Online! 

Featured image credit: A. Hendricks


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