[Streaming on Netflix] Most of us don’t have the exact problems that Alice in “Cam” has because most of us aren’t webcam performers who make a living doing sexy shows online for tips (not that we’re judging). But this intriguing if underdeveloped thriller from first-time director Daniel Goldhaber and screenwriter Isa Mazzei has cautionary lessons for everyone who worries about being overexposed in the Internet Age.
Under the nom de cam Lola, twentysomething Alice (Madeline Brewer) has gained a number of regular online followers who show up every evening to watch her chat and do sex stuff (solo) on a site called FreeGirlsLive.com. Watching is free, but the performer usually has a threshold of “tokens” (which cost money) that she must receive from viewers in order to do certain things, e.g., “You want me to eat a banana? Fifty tokens!” (I’m toning it down a bit.) Lola makes a good living at this and is in the website’s top 100 cam girls, but she wants to break the top 50 and is fiercely competitive with her colleagues, many of whom coincidentally (?) live nearby and are known to her in real life.
The opening sequence establishes uneasy tension about how far Alice/Lola is willing to go, and subsequent scenes dive into the world of cam girls, which can include meeting online admirers in person (for money, of course). Alice tries to keep her cam life separate from her real one, and is unsettled when one of her fans (Patch Darragh) shows up at a store where she’s shopping. We also meet Alice’s mother (Melora Walters), from whom she is hiding her profession, and her teenage brother (Devin Druid), with whom she is waaay too open about it.
With this groundwork laid, offering several possibilities as to what type of thriller this is going to be, we come to the crux of it: Alice goes online to be Lola one evening and discovers that Lola is … already online. Right there in her chatroom, chatting and doing the usual sex stuff for the usual viewers. It’s her! Except it can’t be her because she’s here. Is it a recording of a previous show? If it is, it’s one Alice doesn’t remember doing.
We join Alice in running through the possible explanations, our attention held by the fact that none are ruled out. Whatever “evil” is going on here might be supernatural, technological, or hallucinatory in nature — or it could be ordinary human nefariousness. Or a combination! Whatever it is, the fake Lola — Fauxla, let’s call her — isn’t nearly as cautious about revealing Alice’s personal information as the real Lola is.
Madeline Brewer’s lead performance is solid in a role that demands zero self-consciousness and a lot of pluck. Alice and her friends ought to be more freaked out than they are by what they’re seeing with their own eyes, but we’ll blame the screenplay for that. And while I think the route the story ends up taking isn’t as interesting as some of the other possibilities would have been, it’s logical, and it’s creepy in ways that wouldn’t have made sense 25 years ago. It’s also nice, for once, to see an Internet-centric horror movie that doesn’t seem to have been made by people who are terrified of or completely unfamiliar with the Internet. The Internet’s great, “Cam” says — you just have to be smart about it.
B- (1 hr., 34 min.; )