New Thriller Is Like Black Mirror for Cam Women
In the new thriller Camera, which premieres simultaneously in 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, nevertheless, is the specificity of her fears. Alice is scared, of course , that her mom, 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 not perfect wall that she has built 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 in turn patrons should she enhance relationships with— and at which will others’ expense? Can the woman ever be online enough to crack her site’ s Top 50?
Alice is a gender worker, with all the attendant risks and occasional humiliations— and this moody, neon-lit film never shies away from that 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 overseer, and a set artist. (Decorated with oversize blossoms and teddy bears, the free bedroom that she uses as her set seems to be themed Barbie After Hours. ) So when the unimaginable happens— Alice’ s account is definitely hacked, and a doppelgä nger starts performing her act, with less creativity hot cougar moms 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 time getting to that mystery. That’ s more than fine, because the film, written by ex – webcam model Isa Mazzei and first-time director Daniel Goldhaber, immerses us inside the dual economies of gender work and online interest. The slow reveal on the day-to-day realities of cam-girling is the movie’ s true 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 bath room visits. ) And though Alice denies that her picked career has anything to perform with a personal sense of female empowerment, the film assumes an unspoken yet unmissable feminist consideration of sex work. The disjunct between Alice’ s seeming regularness and Lola’ s over-the-top performances— sometimes including blood capsules— is the idea of the iceberg. More exciting is the sense of safe practices and control that webcam-modeling allows— and how illusory that can become when natural male entitlement gets unleashed coming from social niceties.
If the first half of Camera is pleasantly episodic and purringly tense, the latter half— in which Alice searches for her hacker— is clever, original, and wonderfully evocative. A kind of Black Mirror for camshaft girls, its frights happen to be limited to this tiny piece of the web, but believe it or not resonant for that. We see Alice strive to maintain a certain normal of creative rawness, even while she’ s pressured by machine in front of her to become something of an automaton himself. And versions of the landscape where a desperate Alice phone calls the cops for aid in the hack, only to come to be faced with confusion about the net and suspicion about her job, have doubtlessly performed out countless times in past times two decades. At the intersection associated with an industry that didn’ to exist a decade ago and an ageless trade that’ ersus seldom portrayed candidly in popular culture, the film finds stakes— and a resolution— whose freshness is difficult to understate.
The wonderfully versatile Brewer, who’ s in virtually every scene, pulls off essentially three “ characters”: Alice, Alice as Lola, and Bizarro Lola. It’ s a bravura performance that flits between several realities while keeping the film grounded as the plot changes make narrative leap after narrative leap. Cam’ s villain perhaps represents more an admirable provocation than a satisfying answer. But with many of these naked ambition on display, who also could turn away