Isa Mazzei’s debut film hit Netflix in November of 2018. Cam is full of sex positivity, female empowerment, and terrifying online doppelgangers that take over your identity and ruin your career. The protagonist of the film Alice, played by the extremely talented Madeline Brewer who some of you might recognize as Mercy from Orange is the New Black, is a strong and ambitious cam girl who is desperately trying to work her way to the very top.
Camming, for those of you who might not be familiar with the term, is a type of live sex show put on by both women and men. Typically, the performances are solo, but there are often collaborations between two or more performers as well. As the viewer watches her story unfold it is easy to forget that Alice is not an average woman with a run-of-the-mill job who has the drive and desire to be top of her field. While a movie about a cam girl may make many horror fans take pause, Mazzei herself worked as a cam girl for many years and was ready to craft a narrative that shines a positive light on the profession.
In an interview on the podcast Switchblade Sister’s Mazzei delves into details about the autonomy Brewer was given over her own body during filming. While it’s inevitable to have nudity in a movie about sex workers, it becomes clear very quickly that this is not a movie made for straight men to sit on their couch with a bottle of beer and ogle the actresses while ignoring the larger plot. Brewer was in complete control of when she was and was not naked on set, and her comfort is evident in her performance.
Horror fans are no strangers to the allegations of misogyny and sexism within the genre, and there is of course truth to that stereotype. However, the same can be said about comedies and dramas and science fiction. Cam is a shining example of how horror can be utilized to completely flip stereotypes on their head and use them to the advantage of, in this case, women. Alice is a complex and three-dimensional character, with a family she is scared of disappointing and a career goal that so far seems completely unattainable.
Meagan Navarro discusses the ways in which horror fans, particularly female horror fans, are looked down upon by much of society because of the stereotype that horror is inherently sexist in her article for Bloody Disgusting “In Defense of the Modern Slasher Film and Female Horror Fans”. Cam, while not a slasher film, takes the power and gives it all to a female protagonist much like the “final girl” in the slasher genre. The concept of the final girl has gotten a bad reputation, Navarro points out, even though in films like Halloween, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and the more modern Happy Death Day our hero is the female protagonist who triumphs in the end.
Cam is not here to give viewers a cautionary tale about premarital sex like many early horror films delivered, but rather quite the opposite. Alice and the other women in the film are sexually liberated and in complete control of their performances. The major condemnation is of the men that come to these sites and leave thinking they have some sort of ownership over the performers simply because they, at one point, have paid them for a service. With these nuances Mazzei adds to horror, Alice is fast on her way to joining the ranks of such horror icons as Lauri Strode, Sally Hardesty, and Nancy Thompson as an icon of the horror genre.
You may be asking yourself: “Okay, but where’s the scary?” The horror of Cam comes from the look-a-like Alice awakens to find taking over her channel one day. She is perplexed by why and how her exact duplicate has taken over, and is now far surpassing her in, everything that she has spent her time working so hard to achieve. Alice is tormented trying to get to the bottom of what sinister entity is lurking within the cam site where she has built her career, and the film works its way to a shocking and frenzied ending.
For fans of horror and female empowerment, Cam is worth the devotion of 1hr and 34mins of your life. And if you’re anything like this horror fan, you will go back for a second, third, and maybe fourth viewing.