In a world dominated by social media and the invention of new career paths, like being a YouTuber, the extent to which people share details of their lives online has skyrocketed. Netflix’s newest release “Cam” explores the disastrous effects of maintaining a popular online presence and the lack of authenticity that sites like Instagram and Snapchat have injected into our daily lives.
“Cam” follows the life of Alice Ackerman (Madeline Brewer, “Orange is the New Black”) while she works to make it as a camgirl only to soon discover that someone, or something, has taken over her channel. With the fictional live-streaming site’s eerie similarity to YouTube and Alice’s career essentially that of a YouTuber, the film is able to highlight the more questionable practices prevalent in the online streaming platform. Alice spends days at a time coming up with new “shows,” and collaborations are often a way of gaining new fans. Views are directly related to how much money Alice makes and the company that runs the site takes a sizable chunk of the earnings away from its creators. Only the fact that Alice showcases and sexualizes her body instead of her makeup or DIY skills differentiates what she does as a sex worker from that of YouTubers like James Charles or LaurDIY.
“Cam” also forces the audience to reconsider prejudices against people making a living in unconventional ways. The old joke of becoming a stripper becomes less of a joke and more of a reality as people realize the kind of money that a good stripper can make and the kinds of skills that are required to work in that kind of trade. Again, the same thing occurs with Instagram models and YouTubers — the amount of work it takes to curate and develop a successful following on either of these platforms is a marketing marvel.
Social media comes with its downfalls, though, and “Cam” doesn’t ignore them. The lack of authenticity that we’re all guilty of when it comes to posting on Instagram and Snapchat is casually noted when Alice is shown simply scrolling through a series of pre-taken photos to satisfy one of her “guys.” The sticking point of the film — when Alice’s strange twin who took over her account — is a harsh reminder of society’s fickle attention span and Abby Lee Miller’s famous words: “Everyone is replaceable.”
Each moment spent watching Alice at work is awash in neon pinks and soft, flattering light that makes whatever she does as a camgirl seem like a dream. Even as her livestream ends, the same kind of hazy quality permeates throughout the house that she bought using money from being a camgirl. Only when she’s forced to leave her place of work and confront the real world does this dreamlike state end. The scenes become dull and are no longer pastel; where her camgirl life is awash in blues and pinks, the real world is a rough mixture of greens and greys. It’s where her mother calls her out for biting her nails instead of her fans showering her with love and online tokens, akin to likes on a YouTube video or an Instagram photo. This juxtaposition of color schemes between scenes showing Alice’s reality and her career as a camgirl is reflective of the allure of becoming an internet personality and, in truth, the curated nature of the Instagram profile or Snapchat story.
The movie’s social commentary, though, is overshadowed by its confusing plot that never actually answers some of the questions it poses. It suggests murder, stalkers and a strange entity that copies the profiles and styles of a popular girl’s site. The first two are standard thriller concepts but it’s the idea of some kind of virus or computer program that is preying on and taking advantage of girls online that leaves something to be desired. Given the amount of effort sites like Twitter and Instagram put into detecting fake accounts, this seems to be a bit far-fetched. The only realistic thing about the situation is that Alice never actually defeats it, but instead is just determined to avoid the same thing from happening again. More confusing still, though, is Netflix’s inability to tactfully handle triggering topics like suicide. The film shows Alice using it as a gimmick to gain views and money. The movie glorifies and sexualizes something that has had detrimental effects on the lives of many.
The balance between individuality and popularity is a science that many influencers strive to perfect and “Cam” details this desire in a jarring manner by using a camgirl as the influencer in question. It’s a unique and thrilling movie, but the lack of understanding behind the plot and mental health make it about as authentic as a Kylie Jenner Snapchat story.