While tech-horrors run the risk of dating as quickly as the malevolent malware/equipment they feature, many provide fascinating insights into products gone awry and how they can be utilised as weapons/ to petrify. Recently, Unfriended: Dark Web, i-Lived, Open Windows and Selfie From Hell have all employed web tech/ platforms as tools to terrorise, while the riper likes of Videodrome, Demon Seed, Poltergeist and sci-fi siblings Tron, Brainscan and The Lawnmower Man offer (in retrospect) intriguing insights into corrupt/ defective tech of the time.
With Cam, writer/director Daniel Goldhaber collaborates on a screenplay with former sex worker Isa Mazzei, and crafts a fretful, uncanny tech thriller that taps into a prevalent paranoia of identity theft, profile cloning and public humiliation via social media. In an age of net analytics and ad targeting software, Goldhaber and Mazzei shrewdly explore an embryonic weakness and how it connects with our inherent desire to be admired then gazelle online to reap rewards via likes.
Erotic webcam performer Alice (Madeline Brewer), and her alter ego Lola, strive to reach number one in the charts on her interactive quasi-porn site’s chart. Lola accrues bitcoin/ token donations and hits to reach her goal, but needs to do this by constantly out-sexing her competitors. Our heroine is not quite intrepid enough to crack the top fifty, until a doppelganger of Lola arrives online. Being presented with what she has become, forces a frightened Alice to track down her clone.
Co-writer Mazzei’s invaluable insights into the online/sex industry strengthens Cam and Alice’s tale (combined with a captivating lead performance from Brewer), but director Goldhaber fails to fortify the fantasy/ horror enough to make it effective. Goldhaber doesn’t mine frights from his fresh central concept as well as he fashions a convincing reality for the story to unravel, which is a shame considering the unique subject matter. Despite seeming sometimes slender, Cam operates in a tangible reality, but Alice’s life offline outside Lola’s bedroom/studio is more compelling (if not for her) than the shows, until the striking, reality blending finale arrives.
Cam doesn’t habitually follow the textbook template of character’s investigating horror origins, despite Alice’s dark web snooping, her exploring is minimal. The story doesn’t have many other places to go to go yet does well to avoid clichés. Alice flits between reality, fantasy and skits of paranoia while too many supporting characters are introduced to serve a purpose then meander as cogs in the backdrop before swiftly doing one.
Cam is rarely frightening, but frequently intriguing, freaky fun and feels unique, fitting comfortably into the tech-horror subgenre. Goldhaber and Mazzei unnerve via the slow-burning realism instilled by the writing, research and direction which, when combined with Brewer’s compelling performance, makes for a solid feature debut. The story slumps slightly before re-rising for a creepy final act that simmers into something steadily more unsettling and a startling zenith.
The 62nd BFI London Film Festival runs from 10 – 21 October. Tickets available now from www.bfi.org.uk/lff